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Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk

Stealthy ground attack aircraft

F-117 Nighthawk

Despite being designated as a fighter, the F-117 Nighthawk is in fact a ground attack aircraft

Entered service 1983
Crew 1 men
Dimensions and weight
Length 20.08 m
Wing span 13.2 m
Height 3.78 m
Weight (empty) 13.6 t
Weight (maximum take off) 23.8 t
Engines and performance
Engines 2 x General Electric F404-GF-F1D2 turbofans
Traction (dry) 2 x 48.04 kN
Maximum speed 1 040 km/h
Service ceiling 11.8 km
Combat radius 862 km
Cannon -
Missiles AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile, AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missile. May be configured for air-to-air missiles
Bombs GBU-10/12 Paveway II or GBU-27A/B Paveway III laser guided bomb, B61 free-fall thermonuclear bomb


   From experience with two XST technology demonstrators, Lockheed's Skunk Works developed the world's first operational tactical warplane to use low observable, or stealth, technology to reduce vulnerability to radar detection.

   Developed in great secrecy, the first of five FSD prototypes flew in 1981, and in 1983 the first USAF unit was declared operational. The F-117A was officially acknowledged by the Pentagon in 1988, and in 1989 the type finally went into action during the US invasion of Panama.

   The F-117 made a significant contribution to Operation Desert Storm; 42 aircraft flew from Saudi Arabia on nightly missions against high priority targets in Iraq and occupied Kuwait. The F-117A struck Serbian targets during Operation Allied Force in 1999 and suffered its first operational loss.

   In USAF planning the F-117 is used for attacks against highly leveraged targets such as Cl centers, air defense sector centers, key bridges and airfields. The F-117A uses a highly accurate internal navigation system to put it in the right position to begin the attack. A forward-looking infra-red and downward-looking infra-red are used to acquire the target. Precision guided munitions are guided to a direct hit on the target by a laser boresighted with the downward-looking infra-red.

   After the Gulf War, the F-117 came out of the USAF's black or beyond top secret programmes and was integrated into the war-fighting capabilities of the Air Combat Command. In 1990 Lockheed began an Offensive Capability Improvement Program for the 57 F-117As remaining out of 59 production and five pre-series aircraft delivered. The object was to increase combat effectiveness by reducing cockpit workload. The upgrade added a new flight management system, new cockpit instrumentation with full color multi-function displays, digital moving map and a new turret-mounted infra-red acquisition and designation systems. The internal navigation system was replaced by a new ring laser gyro system that later integrated GPS. All aircraft had been upgraded by 1995. F-117s equipped the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman air force base, New Mexico.

   In 1999 an F-117 was shot down in Serbia by the Serbian troops. Eventually parts of the wreckage made its way to China and Russia. It is speculated that recent Chinese and Russian aircraft with reduced radar cross section might use some the technology from the destroyed Nighthawk.

   This stealthy ground attack aircraft was retired from the US Air Force service in 2008. The main reason was an addition of the ground attack capability to the F-22 Raptor and impending introduction of the F-35 Lightning II.


Video of the F-117 Nighthawk stealthy ground attack aircraft


F-117 Nighthawk

F-117 Nighthawk

F-117 Nighthawk

F-117 Nighthawk

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