The interesting image in this post was found after the end of Operation Desert Storm.
Immediately after the war had ended, U.S. forces inspecting the Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) heavily damaged air base at Tallil found this poorly-copied document, which had probably come from a western magazine, posted on the operations board. As told by Warren Thompson in his book F-117 Stealth Fighter Units of Operation Desert Storm, it was intended to help those MiG fighter pilots trained to fly at night to recognise the F-117’s distinctive silhouette, should they have come into close contact with one. Note that the B-2 silhouette was also featured on the document.
The F-117 Nighthawk was developed in response to the urgent national need for a jet fighter that could operate completely undetected by the enemy. In true Skunk Works fashion, it was developed rapidly and in complete secrecy.
Though far from the traditional, sleek aircraft designs preferred by Skunk Works founder Kelly Johnson, the F-117’s unique design enabled it to reflect radar waves. With its angular panels bolstered by an external coating of radar-absorbent material, the aircraft was nearly invisible to radar.
In the summer of 1975, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held a “pole-off” competition. Skunk Work’s design demonstrated unmatched low observability and won Lockheed Martin Skunk Works the contract for Have Blue, the stealth demonstrator that led to the F-117 Nighthawk.
DARPA awarded Skunk Works with the contract for the Nighthawk less than a year after Have Blue’s successful first flight in 1977, and a legendary partnership between the Skunk Works team and the U.S. Air Force quickly made F-117 production a reality. The first flight took place in 1981 just 31 months after the contract award, and deliveries began the following year.
The aircraft achieved initial operational capability in 1983 but was kept under the strictest of secrecy for many years. It wasn’t until 1988 that the program was publicly acknowledged, and not until 1990 that it made its first formal public appearance. By this time, the aircraft had been operational for seven years.
The aircraft’s first public viewing at Nellis Air Force Base was attended by thousands longing to see more than the fuzzy, low-quality image of the F-117 featured on the May 1989 cover of Aviation Week & Space Technology.
The F-117A first saw combat during
Operation Just Cause on Dec. 19, 1989, when two F-117As from the 37th TFW
attacked military targets in Panama.
The F-117A again went into action during Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991 when the 415th and the 416th squadrons of the 37th TFW moved to a base in Saudi Arabia. During Operation Desert Storm, the F-117As flew 1,271 sorties, achieving an 80 percent mission success rate, and suffered no losses or battle damage. A total of 59 F-117As were built between 1981 and 1990. In 1989 the F-117A was awarded the Collier Trophy, one of the most prized aeronautical awards in the world.
F-117 Stealth Fighter Units of Operation Desert Storm is published by Osprey Publishing and is available to order here.
Photo credit: Luke Atwell via Osprey F-117 Stealth Fighter Units of Operation Desert Storm
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