A surprising reappearance of the F-117 Nighthawk stealth attack aircraft has caught the public’s eye. Formally retired back in 2008, the aircraft have since been stored by the US Air Force, with some of the airframes being moved to different museums in the US. It seems that the exploitation of the Nighthawk is not over yet. 12 years after its retirement, the small remaining fleet of only a couple of F-117s has made a comeback, conducting missions against the US Navy and US Air Force aircraft, potentially as an aggressor as part of Exercise Red Flag operations to test their detection systems and inter-operability when seeking stealthy targets.
The return of the F-117 is due to its unique design and stealth technology. From its radar signature minimising shape to the fuselage’s wave absorbing coating, it remains one of the most technologically advanced aircraft in the World. This is why it has been used in the role of an aggressor during various exercises.
At least six Nighthawks are at the disposal of the US Air Force at Nellis Base, Nevada. They are supporting the operations conducted by the 64th Aggressor Squadron, equipped with F-16s. In late October two F-117 Nighthawks left the Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, and landed at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
The F-117, although retired, is still a very capable stealth attack aircraft that might have been delivered ahead of its time. The unfortunate loss of one Nighthawk in Serbia in the 1990s did, however, show the imperfections of its tactical use. But besides its edge-cutting design, the F-117 may now help to develop the defensive capabilities of the US Navy and Air Force.
Flights of these mysterious planes continue over Nevada and California, delivering more wonderful sights of Nighthawks operating under the callsign ‘KNIGHT‘.
It is no secret that the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China have put an emphasis on reducing detection by the enemy. However, no other power possesses a plane comparable to F-117. While this technological gap may close with time it appears that the US is already working on ways to counter attacks by aircraft with minimalized radar signatures. Because of this F-117s remain operational at Tonopah Air Base and this technological wonder of the 1990s will serve a few more years, trying to breach the US military’s own 2A/AD systems, just as it was intended to do during its service.