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 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.
Noteworthy the most mind blowing fact about the F-117 is that a very unclear picture of the jet led to the creation of one of the most legendary fictional aircraft, the F-19 Stealth Fighter.
Noteworthy the F-19 was based on some very unclear pictures which didn’t show the true shape of the actual plane.
Models of the F-19 Stealth Fighter started to appear in the eighties and were available from three manufacturers: Revell, Monogram, Italeri and Testor. All of them claimed that their models originated from a kit based on photos of an existing aircraft taken around Area 51.
The manufactures had decades of experience in producing highly detailed models that pilots and aerospace engineers purchased. The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and other media discussed the models after they hit market in the mid eighties; when the real stealth aircraft crashed in California in July 1986, news stories used the model to depict it. Representative Ron Wyden asked the chairman of Lockheed Corporation why an aircraft that Congressmen could not see was sold as model aircraft.
In the meantime, the F-19 became a cult classic: it appeared in Nintendo games and in GI-Joe cartoon series. Everybody agreed it was a real plane but nobody knew the actual look, the maker and the role played by the aircraft. The cartoonist who drew the famed Buck Danny comics series depicted all three the different models of the F-19 parked on the tarmac to make fun of the fact that nobody agreed on the actual shape of the “real” aircraft.
When the F-117 was publicly revealed in November 1988 it was clear that the F-19 did not really resemble it, which no doubt pleased those working with the real, black aircraft.
However, even though the F-19 Stealth Fighter never came to existence, this one-of-a-kind aircraft that never was will always be remembered as one of the ultimate Pop-culture icons of the 1980s.
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