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[Proposed F-117N variant.(LMSW)]

Variant Aircraft

In October 1991, a sudden interest developed in Washington to revive production after the hype of Desert Storm. Although the proposal was endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee, it was fiercely opposed by the Air Force, which ultimately prevailed in eliminating funding for the project and killing the F-117 purchase.

The post Desert Storm party was over for the F-117A, and it became the essence of Washington politics to display a lowered regard for the F-117A. Lockheed, whose F-22 had just been chosen as the USAF ATF, was told not to campaign for a new F-117 production contract. Push for more F-117's, and the F-22 will go down in flames. A company official said "Lockheed's being terrorized."

However, the Skunk Works did retain it's tools and jigs to put the F-117A back into production. Although the parent company Lockheed would no longer push for F-117's, Skunk Works started a number of internal projects to offer a new and improved F-117 to potential buyers. From these internal projects came the F-117A+, F-117B, F-117B (British, or F-117C), F-117N, and A/F-117X and other minor proposals.

It should be noted that since these are internal projects they have never been cancelled. Although government funding might have been cancelled at one point or another, these projects are still alive and well within The Skunk Works.


This proposed conversion of the standard F-117A was conceived for reconnaisance missions, and there were to be two configuration choices. Although some strike capability was to be retained, the first option included a bomb bay-mounted pallet with a sideways-looking EO sensor in the ventral canoe. The price for 24 recce kits was $213 million. This palletized installation would permit the aircraft to be converted back to the attack configuration in about four hours. The second proposal envisioned an integral recce suite with an IRLS, a small EO camera and a datalink, and would have allowed the aircraft to retain full combat capability. The aircraft would possibly be modified to carry the ATARS camera system in one weapons bay, and a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) in the aircraft's other weapons bay. At an estimated cost of $520 million, a 1992 proposal would have added 24 RF-117A's to F-117A production.

Senator Sam Nunn, a very knowledgeable defense figure on Capitol Hill, declared "The Air Force already has more than 1,600 F-16's, and buying 72 more will provide only a marginal increase in capability. Buying 24 more F-117A's for the same amount will provide a 50% increase in the number of aircraft that proved to be the superstar of Desert Storm." The Senate voted to cancel the F-16's and called on the USAF to order the F-117's. Such a vote is often overtaken by some later vote and that was the case causing the additonal F-117A purchases not to happen.


Lockheed proposed to the USAF an ambitious upgrade with enhanced low observable (LO) technologies anf the aircraft was to be fitted with the same undercarriage as the F-15 Eagle and an F414 engine with afterburner. The prototype conversion was projected to cost $79 million. Details have not been released, although Paul Martin says the upgrade involves "full-scale development of 18 advanced low-observable technologies. Lockheed proposed replacing the engines, new all weather sensors, low probability of intercept communication, global navigationing receivers.


The first Stealth Fighter to be designated was F-117B was conceived as a late-production configuration when an 89-aircraft fleet was seriously proposed in 1983. The aircraft was to be fitted with a Global Positioning System (GPS) and LPI radar, and have AGM-88 HARM compatability. It was to be based on the standard F-117A-type airframe.


The F-117B designation was then to be applied to an aircraft with an enlarged weapons bay and an increased span of 64 ft 11 in, as well as a reduced wing sweep (42 or 48 degrees) and reduced-sweep V tails. The later were to be augmented by conventional slab tailerons. There was also supposed to be an increase in range to 820 miles from the F-117A's 570 miles.

[F-117N Variant with bulged fuselauge and AA missiles on bay doors.(LMSW)]


A subsequent F-117B variant was proposed that combined features of the F-117+ (enhanced LO, an F-15 type undercarriage and an afterburning F414 engine) and those of the YF-117B. This aircraft would have featured a 73,260 lb (33,230 kg) MTOW, and an 8,000 lb (3,629 kg) payload comprising four 2,000 lb LGBs. It was to have had a 1,000 nautical mile unrefueled radius.

[Proposed RAF F-117B (British). (Illustration by John Ridyard)]


The F-117A version proposed to Britain's Royal Air Force in 1995 has been refered to as the "F-117C" by some authors in print, though this designation may be inncorrect. It was to be a baseline F-117A, possibly fitted with an un-gridded B-2 Stealth Bomber type intakes, a F-22 type clear-view canopy, British avionics, F414 or EJ200 engines, plus a number of BAE structural components or sub-assemblies. It was being suggested to meet the Staff Target (Air) 425 deep-strike requirement that was fulfilled by the Panavia Tornado GR.Mk4, which was scheduled for retirement in the the begining of the 21st century. Confusingly, this proposal was also referred to as the F-117A+ and F-117B (B for "British").


This original proposal to the US Navy was a standard F-117A with an off-the-shelf automatic carrier landing system (ACLS) and some limited corrosion proofing. This proposal was superseeded by the F-117X.

[Lockheed F-117N model.(LMSW)]

F-117N (II)

Based on the YF-117B/F-117B, this variant was to have a 65,700 lb (29,801 kg) MTOW and be equipped with powered wing folding, an arrester hook, an off-the-shelf F-14 main undercarriage and probably an F/A-18 type nose gear. This proposal was also replaced by the F-117X concept, which was rejected in mid 1993 in favor of the A/F-117X.

[Lockheed F-117N model.(LMSW)]

F-117X Sea Hawk

The F-117X designation covered the proposed conversion of a single F-117A intended to serve as a technology demonstrator and naval/carrier-borne "proof-of-concept" aircraft for low-speed handling trials and simulated carrier landings. Lockheed hoped for a 255-aircraft order at a unit price of $70 million. The engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) cost was estimated at $3.1 billion. The idea was dropped in favor of the F-117N (II) concept.

[Proposed A/F-117X. (Illustration by John Ridyard)]


A derivative of and replacement for the F-117N, this proposed variant was submitted as a potential alternative to the joint advanced strike technology (JAST) aircraft. It was to be fitted with an afterburning F414 engine, LPI multimode (air-to-air and air-to-ground) radar, AIM-120 AMRAAM compatibility, expanded bomb bays (10,000 lb [4,536 kg] internal bomb load), provision for an 8,000 lb (3,629 kg) external bomb load (for "end of war" missions after an enemy's air defenses have been degraded) and three section spoilers forward of trailing edge flaps. The A/F-117X was proposed for a "silver bullet"-type strike force to augment F/A-18E/F Hornets. Lockheed hopeed to procure between 40 and 75 aircraft.

[Proposed F-117X with spoilers and flaps.(LMCO)]

--------------------------------------- Lockheed documents credit the A/F-117X with AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile capability. The pictures/diagrams show the AIM-9/AIM-120 rails on the interior sides of the A/F-117X's (fully bulged) bomb bay doors. Although it was not stated, it is implied that the F-117B also has these capabilities.

Max. T.O. wt.: 73,200 lbs. (vs. F-117A's 52,500 lbs.)
Unrefueled combat radius: 980 miles (vs. F-117A's 570 miles)
Internal payload: 10,000 lbs. (vs. F-117A's 5,000 lbs.)
Payload: AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9, LGB
Advanced all-weather sensors
Improved low observability
Engines: afterburning GE F414 (2)
Aerodynamic improvements (including new wing and tail)


Shorty after Desert Storm offered the US Navy a minimally changed F-117A as the F-117N. (Reported in the September 13, 1993 Aviation Week, pg. 96) Inherent structural features of the F-117A fuselage enable it to be effectivly modified specifically for Navy use. The F-117A possesses three primary Navy characteristics not normally found in Air Force aircraft. These are: a full-depth center keel from nose gear to tail hook; three full-depth fuselage frames for wing carry through; and the main landing gear being attached directly to a major bulkhead.
Lockheed thought the Navy could use it like the Air Force uses it's F-117As-have a small strike force that's routinely deployed on board carriers that would be able to help beat down air defenses and leverage the conventional airplanes that are on the ship. Originally the plan was for 40 to 70 aircraft.
The Navy criticized that the F-117N was for a single mission aircraft for night operations. After the Pentagon rejected the F-117N in mid 1993, Lockheed went back to the drawing boards to modify the F-117N so that it met the requirements for the canceled A/F-X program and presented the A/F-117X in mid 1994.


For the A/F-117X Lockheed added an afterburning General Electric F414 engine, the same one that powers the F/A-18E/F. An elongated platypus section was added to accommodate the larger engines. The A/F-117X also had an advanced radar/infrared suite, which would have provided an all-weather air-to-ground and air-to-air-missile capability. The latter, with the added maneuvering capability provided by the afterburning engines, would turn the F-117 into more of a multi mission aircraft according to Lockheed officials. The A/F-117X met all of the A/F-X requirements except for the "carrier deck spotting factor".
The internal payload capacity was doubled-from the current 5,000 lbs. to 10,000 lbs. by enlarging the bomb bay. The keel was dropped 19 in. and the doors replaced creating a shallow, elongated bulge underneath the fuselage. The bulge added some drag, but did not adversely effect aerodynamics or stealthiness according to Lockheed. Two stores pylons were also added under each wing to allow for external carriage of an additional 8,000 lbs. of fuel or ordinance. Other features included a "very high resolution ground targeting radar, navigational forward looking infrared (FLIR) system, and an infrared search and track capability". (See World Air Power Journal #19, Winter 1994).

The fuselage and landing gear were further modified and strengthened for shipboard operations. The A/F-117X had a much-revised trapezoidal horizontal tail (to control the landing pattern approach angle and descent rate), with the horizontal stabilizers resembling those of the F-22. The A/F-117X included all the Navy standards-a carrier qualified arrestor hook, folding wings for deck storage, F-14 undercarriage, and twin nosewheels (possible F-18) with catapult tie bar.
The wing sweep was lessened to 42 degrees while the span was increased by 21.45 ft. The wing also featured double-slotted trailing edge flaps and three-section spoilers forward of flaps for improved low-speed approach handling characteristics.
The A/F-117X would feature access to equipment bays with "tail over water" and/or one engine running. Lockheed documents credit the A/F-117X with AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile capability. The pictures/diagrams show the AIM-9/AIM-120 rails on the interior sides of the A/F-117X's (fully bulged) bomb bay doors. Flyaway cost was estimated at 70 million per aircraft in 1994, based on a 250 aircraft production run.
In a push for modular production and alleged cost savings, Lockheed proposed that the US Navy and Air Force execute a joint program to build both the F-117B and A/F-117X.
The Senate Armed Services Committee earmarked $175 million to initiate a program definition phase and flying demonstrator of the new production aircraft.

A/F-117X (reconfigured F-117N) "Seahawk"
Similar to F-117B
Max. T.O. wt.: 73,200 lbs. (vs. F-117A's 52,500 lbs.)
Unrefueled combat radius: 980 miles (vs. F-117A's 570 miles)
Internal payload: 10,000 lbs. (vs. F-117A's 5,000 lbs.)
Payload: AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9, LGB
Engines: afterburning GE F414 (2)
Wing sweep: 42 degrees (vs. F-117A's 67.3 degrees)
Wing Span: 64 ft.9.4 in (vs. F-117A's 43 ft 4 in)
Folding outer wing panels
F-22 style clear canopy
All-moving tailerons for roll control
Strengthened undercarriage
F-14 Automatic Carrier Landing System (ACLS)

(Thank you Venik for the scans.)

In June 1994, F-117 Programs vice president (and later Skunk Works vice president) Paul Martin said that the F-117A+, F-117B, and A/F-117X proposals were being briefed in Washington. Says Martin, "We're not gold-plated, we keep our team lean, and we work with the customer to provide the production he wants. We're the experts on low-rate production."

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