Starting in December an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter will be displayed at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.
“Unexpected Guest,” as F-117 Tail No. 803 is nicknamed, will be unveiled on Dec.7 at the annual Reagan National Defense Forum the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute announced on Nov. 4. The jet is on loan from the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, and will be on permanent display at the library.
According to Air Force Magazine, Unexpected Guest entered service in May 1984 and flew 78 combat sorties, more than all other F-117s combined, according to the foundation. Nighthawks, the world’s first operational stealth aircraft, became public in 1988.
“I’m glad the airplane can come out of the dark to take its rightful place in the light, somewhere it can be seen and appreciated by the people it helped to protect,” retired Lt. Col. Scott Stimpert, a pilot who flew the aircraft when it was classified, said in a foundation release.
Lockheed Martin restored the airframe for display. The USAF museum in Ohio also has an F-117.
The F-117A was developed in response to an Air Force 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.
The first F-117A flew on June 18, 1981, and the first F-117A unit, the 4450th Tactical Group (renamed the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing in October 1989), achieved initial operating capability in October 1983. 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.
The Nighthawk was officially retired in 2008. The last F-117s left Holloman in April of the same year with a stop at their birthplace in Palmdale, California, before ending up in their final resting place where their historic journey began in 1981 – Tonopah Test Range, Nevada. The aircraft were placed in Type 1000 storage in the event they were ever called back into duty (in fact there have been many reported sightings and pictures of the aircraft flying since then…).
The Reagan library and museum complex was evacuated last week because of a raging brush fire in Simi Valley that came dangerously close to the building. It reopened to the public Nov. 1.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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