Page born: April 01 2002
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I see the F-117A?
There are three F-117A's on permanent display in the USA. Please note: the displays at Nellis AFB and Skunkworks are not open to the public. Although one can see them visiually, they are behind fences and require special permision to visit up close. However, at the USAF Museum one can walk right up to the F-117A displayed.
|778||Skunk Works (Palmdale)||"Mutt" Gate Guardian|
|779||Skunk Works (Palmdale)||"Mutt" Gate Guardian (Mid Fuselage and cockpit)|
|79-10780||Nellis AFB||Gate Guardian (FSD-1)|
|79-10781||Wright Patterson AFB||U.S. Air Force Museum(FSD-2)|
|785||Skunk Works (Palmdale)||"Mutt" Gate Guardian (Right Wing and Aft Fuselage)|
|82-0801||Skunk Works (Palmdale)||"Mutt" Gate Guardian (Right Wing-90% rebuilt, now Left Wing)|
The wreckage of F-117A #82-806 is now on display in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
The Air Combat Command is in charge of static and aerial F-117A demonstrations across the USA. The ACC aircraft are those from the operational units at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. The ACC schedule of F-117A airshow and aerial appearances is under "Demo Schedule":
Although the 410th FLTS "Baja Scorpions" assigned to Plant 42, Palmdale Calif. have made Southern California appearences, there is no schedule for their rare appearences.
Is the F-117A the "Stealth Bomber"?
Although the F-117A can be thought as an "attack jet" or a "stealth bomber", it is not THE Stealth Bomber. The Lockheed F-117A Night Hawk is the "Stealth Fighter" and costs about 45 million per aircraft. The Northrop B-2 Spirit is the "Stealth Bomber" that costs approximately 2 billion dollars each. The B-2 is basically a flying wing design where the F-117A is a lifting body/high-swept delta wing design.
Is the F-117A invisible to radar?
No aircraft is entirely invisible to radar. The goal is to make detection and/or radar lock as hard as possible. Therefore, the detection range is small enough that there is not enough reaction time to deploy countermeasures that are effective. In addition, you add decoys, radar seeking missiles, good mission planning, and the fog of war, and the F-117A does become practically invisible to ground based radar. However, the battlefield is constantly changing. Both the enemy and the USAF are constantly trying to improve their assets.
Stealth is not limited to radar only. The F-117A also was designed to minimize Infrared Heat Signature, Optical Visibility, and also has a "low acoustic signature".
Why the designation F-117A?
This has been a topic of much debate. However, the most plausible theory that is believed by the author is that the F-117A really did get its number from the numbering system used for Soviet and other "black" aircraft at Groom. Numbers such as YF-110, YF-113, YF-114, etc.,...up through (and possibly beyond) YF-117A were used by the test pilots as radio callsigns. After a while, these radio call signs came to be sort of unofficial designations for these aircraft. The number 117 became so closely associated with the stealth fighter that when Lockheed printed up the first Dash One Pilot Manual, it had "F-117A" on the cover. Since the Air Force didn't want to pay millions of dollars to re-do all the manuals, the aircraft became the F-117A officially.(As a note: A similar mistake was made when LBJ announced the existence of the "Blackbird". It was supposed to have been designated RS-71, but LBJ announced it as SR-71 and no one had the guts to tell LBJ that he had goofed. The designation stuck.)
Whereas the "Y" prefix is supposed to denote service test aircraft, it was not used in that manner for the classified aircraft designations. It was simply a way to identify an aircraft that could not be named in the pilot's Form 5. In the records of the 410th FLTS, the FSD aircraft are still carried as YF-117A. In this case the "Y" does not denote a "prototype" in the traditional sense, but serves to identify the FSD airframes.
Why the name "Night Hawk" instead of "Wobbly Goblin"?
Per DoD 4120.I14-L, May 12, 2004 pg 38, the offical name of the F-117A is "Night Hawk". However, "Nighthwak" is often used interchangibly, even by USAF entities.
There have been many names for the F-117A. Let me tackle the "Wobbly Goblin" one first. According to every F-117A pilot I've talked to, the F-117A flies like any fighter should. As one pilot said "Nobody actually associated with the program while I was in it EVER called it the "Wobblin' Goblin," although I've seen that in print a lot. It didn't wobble--was a rock-solid platform (watch the combat videotape!)." The nickname of "Wobbly Goblin" is fictitious-no one ever called the F-117A that. Apparently a couple of old F-117A test pilots were at a test pilot convention. One of them made the reference that the plane felt like a "Wobbly Goblin" right before some particular computer compensation kicked in during an early flight test. This was heard by one guy, who told his friend, who in turn talked to a reporter in New York over the phone. The reporter then wrote it in an article incorrectly saying that pilots routinely use the term "Wobbly Goblin". (As a note: the article's goal was to degrade the capabilities and quality of the F-117A.)
One of the earliest names for the F-117A was "Scorpion". Apparently, during testing a scorpion found it's way into one of the hangers. (Some sources say onto the program manager's desk.) The Baja Scorpion (Baja for Southern Groom-the YF-117A's were in the sothern hangers of the base) was adopted and still is the mascot of the FSD's and the 410th TFS. The Scorpion symbol is also used in conjunction with the Dragon Test Team symbolizing that it has remained a symbol of all F-117A flight testing.
Because of security concerns in the mid 1980's, there were no patches that showed the F-117A, said "F-117A", or the name "Night Hawk". All patches that related to the F-117A program had obscure symbols and animals on them, and even these had security restrictions placed on them. (Scorpions, Dragons, etc.) Some patches did show a "hawk". One patch was one showing a goat being chased by an A-7 aircraft with the words "Goatsuckers". This patch was presumably worn by A-7 pilots (possibly instructor pilots) who chased the F-117A during training missions. Although not a patch that would mean anything to the general public, a botanist would tell you that the North American Night Hawk is also known as the "Goatsucker".
Yet another name used (but probably not by those involved with the program but outsiders) was "Cockroach" or "Roach". They're black, nasty, they come out at night and they scuttle away when you turn a light on them. This term was also used by some staffers. (Staffers also used the term "stink bug" because of the way it looks from behind and under.)
One of the early names for the F-117A was "Black Jet". I've heard that all who heard it hated it some years ago (and the Air Force tried to promote it vs. the "Night Hawk" name), but many current F-117A pilots call it the "Black Jet". (It is possible that all the LOCKHEED people that heard it hated it.) The origin possibly comes from the time when camouflaged A-7's were used as a cover story. Due to security concerns, the A-7's were called the "camo jets" and the F-117A were called the "Black jets".
Eventually the name "Night Hawk" won out. The Air Force thought they'd have a problem with "NightHawk" for the F-117A because there was apparently already the night version of the UH-60 "Blackhawk" helicopter (VH-60D and VH-60N) that was called "NightHawk". Hence, the offical two word "Night Hawk".
In Saudi Arabia, the name used was "Shabah" (or "Shaba") as a call sign since it was close to the Arabic word for ghost, and that was what the local people called it. During Allied Force (1999) the "shabah" callsign was heard for training flights.
Other more colorful names have included "Cubists' Nightmare", "Iraqi Revenue Service", "The Ugly One", "the sacred airplane" (because when people saw it for the first time they remarked "Oh my God!"), "Skunkjet" (If only Lockheed would just paint a white tanker-rendezvous stripe!), "The Guaranteed Promotion", "The Invisible Aim Point" and "The Truck Stop".
What is the F-19?
The designation F-19 was reportedly skipped (F-18 to F-20) in 1982 to give the Northrop F-20 Tigershark a nice, even, "First of the next generation" number. (As a note-the F-13 designation was deliberately skipped.) At the time it was assumed that the F-19 was the designation for the stealth fighter. (By this point in time there had been enough leaks to confirm that a stealth fighter did exist.)
In May 1986, Testors released a model of the F-19 based on RCS books, and a couple of eyewitness reports. In fact, Testors even tested the model in a RCS chamber in San Diego. (It was found that the inlets were a problem, which were corrected in the final design.) In eighteen months nearly 700,000 models were sold making it an instant success. The only problem was that the Testor F-19 followed the SR-71's smooth curves.
In fact, the stealth fighter's existence was such an open secret that even the Air Force joked about it. At the 1988 Edwards AFB Air Show, a large area was roped off. It contained a ladder, wheel chocks, and an official display sign labeled "F-19 Flying Frisbee". Of course this was an invisible plane, so no one could actually see it.
When it was revealed that the "stealth fighter" was designated F-117A and was not smooth, some people abandoned the F-19 notion completely and accepted that the designation had been skipped. (The USAF could honestly say that the F-19 did not exist whenever asked.) However, some people today claim to have seen the Testor's F-19 flying in the sky. (I guess we will have to wait and see on that.)
Because of the popularity of the F-19 designation, the USAF Museum Website has a reference to the Lockheed F-19 COSIR-follow the link and you are lead to the F-117A page.
What about the story of dead bats in the F-117A hangers?
| The following article was published in Aviation
Week and Space
Technology, Oct 17, 1991:
"An acoustic-guided submunition call the BAT may be good against tanks, but not against an F-117. A reader who works on the stealth fighter in Saudi Arabia says bats (the natural ones) occasionally work their way into F-117 hangars. One night, a hungry bat turned right into an F-117 rudder and fell stunned to the floor. He flew away groggily, leaving behind a heightened impression of the aircraft's stealth. "I don't know what the radar return is for the vertical tails of the F-117 but I always thought it had to be more than an insect's," the reader said. "I guess I was wrong." There may be some "science" in this - the ultrasound wavelengths used by bats are roughly the same as X-band radar."
|In Ben Rich's book "Skunk Works" Col. Barry Horne is
"....at night the bats would come out and feed off insects. In the mornings we'd find bat corpses littered around our airplanes inside open hangers."
| When I asked a pilot about this he stated:
"During the six months I lived in Saudi Arabia (Feb-Aug 91), I lived in hardened aircraft shelters with the jets. I walked by them all hours of the day and night, and never once saw a bat--let alone a dead bat."
"I knew Col. Horne well. He went to Saudi Arabia a few months before I did, so I don't know whether he saw any bats, but if the quote in Ben Rich's book is accurate, then I believe he did. I never saw even one, though, alive or dead, and (I) passed through the aircraft shelters all hours of the day and night."
"What might have really happened could have been that when the Night Hawks first got to King Khalid Air Base the Saudis exterminated bats in the hangars--the best places to roost would've been the door tracks. Or possibly poisoned the insects on which they fed."
| I also asked a former F-117A crew chief who was
also in Saudi Arabia
after the war. He stated:
""If you think about it the bats are probably like small birds, which can't deal with the high frequency noise the engines make. It is very common for small birds to become disorientated and die from jet blast or the noise at least from dealing with jets. Especially when they are in closed confined spaces....hangars, overhangs, enclosures, flows, etc. I've seen it happen to the fine feathered friend unfortunately."
Is the F-117A declassified?
The answer to this question is "Yes" and "No". The existence of the F-117A was declassified on November 8, 1988. However, to this day there are still many things classified regarding it's capabilities, weapons, radar absorbent coating, and construction. In March 2000 a 1992 era Dash-1 flight manual was offered for sale on Ebay and shortly reached the price of $500 with a week left before the closing of the auction. The seller had to cancell the auction because the USAF contacted him and stated that the Flight Manual could not be sold due to National Security.
Also still classified is much of the history of the F-117A. At airshows USAF guards with M-16 rifles stand inside a 20 foot, two tier perimeter surrounded by signs that say "Restricted Area-DEADLY FORCE AUTHORIZED". The F-117A moved from a status of "black" to a status known as "grey". In the "blackworld", the F-117A was completely a secret. In the "greyworld" the existance of the F-117A is acknowledged, but most specific details are still fuzzy. When asked specific questions about the F-117A at airshows, pilots often either decline to comment or recite a rehersed answer that is either vague or misleading. This is done because (naturally) F-117A personal do not want to accidentally disclose what the USAF considers as sensitive information.
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