Military Aviation

HERE’S WHY THE ROYAL AIR FORCE HAS NOT BECOME THE ONLY F-117 NIGHTHAWK STEALTH FIGHTER FOREIGN OPERATOR

F-117 stealth fighters for the Royal Air Force

Newly declassified documents released from the British National Archives reveal that U.S. President Ronald Reagan had offered Margaret Thatcher the chance to work on U.S. advanced military programs  during the 1980s.

Among them there were the Space Transportation System (STS, as the Space Shuttle program was officially designated) and the Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter.

According to Theguardian.com, Thatcher agreed that for Britain the Space Shuttle program was more cost-effective than the European Ariane expendable launch vehicle.

The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) in fact wanted to send two Skynet 4 military satellites into orbit to provide communications across Europe and the Atlantic, and the shuttle launch was priced at £58m – £23m cheaper than Ariane.

However the Challenger disaster, along with French prime minister Pierre Mauroy letter in which he pleaded Thatcher to reconsider her decision, played against the Space Shuttle program.

Moreover Theguardian.com reports that in 1986 President Ronald Reagan wanted to share a highly sensitive U.S. military technology with the United Kingdom.

F-117A Nighthawk (Stealth) 49th OG, 8th FS “The Black Sheep Squadron”, HO/88-843, Holoman AFB, NM – 2008 – Profile Print by AircraftProfilePrints.com

The only F-117 foreign operator

After Thatcher “met privately” with Casapar (Cap) Weinberger, the then U.S. defence secretary, to discuss this unique project, the U.K. Prime Minister sent a top secret personal message (on which someone wrote in faint pencil “Stealth”) to the U.S. President where she stated: “Dear Ron, I was immensely impressed by your splendid achievement: three cheers for America! I was also very touched by the generosity of the offer of participation which [Cap] brought. It brings home once again who our real friends are.”

The program was codenamed “Project Moonflower” and was aimed to sell the still top-secret F-117 to the United Kingdom.

The Lockheed F-117A was developed in response to a U.S. Air Force (USAF) request for an aircraft capable of attacking high value targets without being detected by enemy radar. By the 1970s, new materials and techniques allowed engineers to design an aircraft with radar-evading or “stealth” qualities.

The result was the F-117A, the world’s first operational stealth aircraft, which performed its maiden flight on Jun. 18, 1981.

Eventually the offer to buy the Nighthawk to equip Royal Air Force (RAF) Squadrons was declined by the MoD because the F-117 was still a black program. In fact a Dec. 1986 MoD letter to Charles Powell, the prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser, informed him that “Mr Weinberger has offered us a chance to purchase the current US aircraft but we have replied that we would not wish to actually buy hardware while the programme remains strictly black [secret].”

Photo credit: Senior Master Sgt. Kim Frey / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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