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[Stealth Fighter Association 2002 Tonopah + 20 Reunion logo. (SFA)]

Tonopah +20 2002 Reunion
June 27- 30, 2002

The Stealth Fighter Association will hold its first ever reunion in Las Vegas in June 2002 named "F-117A Reunion: Tonopah +20".

STEALTH FIGHTER ASSOCIATION: Truth wins out after 20 years
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Saturday, June 29, 2002)

[Mike Powanda, left, greets Richard and Darlene New as they arrive Friday for the Stealth Fighter Association's 20th anniversary reunion at Caesars Palace. 
(Photo by Amy Beth Bennett) ] For a good cause, Dick Smith used to lie to his wife and friends about where he was and what he was doing.

Now, the retired U.S. Air Force pilot and systems engineer can travel to Las Vegas from his retirement home in Northern Nevada, sit with a group of buddies in a fancy hotel suite, and chat with a reporter about the once top-secret project he worked on.

"I still can't tell you what I worked on," he said Friday afternoon, laughing. "If I did, I'd have to kill you."

Smith, who retired in 1998 after 23 years in the Air Force, is in town this weekend for the Stealth Fighter Association's 20th anniversary.

Nearly 1,000 people signed up for the reunion, which includes golf tournaments, cocktail parties and a tour of Hoover Dam. But the real purpose is to let old friends talk about the good old days.

"We all just get together and have a good time," said Mike Powanda, a security worker at Lockheed Martin in Palmdale, Calif., for 22 years. "It's fun. I've seen people I haven't seen in a long time."

The reunion, which ends Sunday, is at Caesars Palace. The association is a nonprofit, nongovernment group headquartered in Palmdale.

The stealth fighter, more properly called the F-117, made its first flight more than 20 years ago. The planes officially did not exist for years, so they flew only at night.

Despite occasional sightings and a flurry of rumors about the radar-evading plane, no one in the government would talk about them. It wasn't until late in 1988 that the program was declassified.

Stealths were deployed in Panama in 1989 and in Iraq in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War. The original stealth fighter wing was based at Tonopah on the Nellis Air Force Range but was moved to New Mexico after the war.

During the years the plane officially was nonexistent, the men and women who worked on them and flew them were not allowed to talk about them.

"You'd give your wife a telephone number that would be in New York or somewhere," said Ben McAvoy, a retired Lockheed Martin field engineer who now lives in Phoenix. "She'd call that number, and they'd have to relay it somehow to where you really were."

Because the planes flew only at night, and because their location was secret, workers had to fly to Tonopah on Mondays, work from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day, and fly home on Fridays. They spent all weekend pretending to live a normal life and start the process all over again on Monday, McAvoy said.

It took two years for him to get the security clearance he needed to work on the stealth project, he said. Investigators interviewed every neighbor within two blocks of his house.

Smith said his security check was even more extensive, with investigators looking into every detail of his life from when he was 5 years old.

"You had to have people with that kind of security clearance to keep it secret for darn near 10 years," McAvoy said.

Both men said they would gladly do it again.

"Fortunately," Smith said, "things that we helped develop over the years are still being used today. The technology is evolving, sure, but we created it."

For more information:

Website:Stealth Fighter Association Website
Snail Mail:Stealth Fighter Association
P.O. Box 903395
Palmdale, CA 93590-3395

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