US Naval Aviator explains why in air to air combat a P-51 Mustang would toast an F-117 Nighthawk everyday

US Naval Aviator explains why in air to air combat a P-51 Mustang would toast an F-117 Nighthawk everyday

By Dario Leone
Nov 30 2023
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The F-117 Nighthawk

The F-117 is the world’s first operational stealth aircraft. The Nighthawk is a single-seat, twin-engine stealth attack aircraft. Only 64 were ever built and first flew in 1981. The US Air Force (USAF) “Retired” the aircraft in 2008.

Although officially retired, many F-117s remain airworthy and are used to support limited research and training missions based on overall cost effectiveness and their ability to offer unique capabilities.

Moreover, as we have already reported, the remaining F-117s conduct dissimilar air combat training (DACT) missions with other USAF air assets.

F-117A print
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-117A Nighthawk (Stealth) 49th OG, 8th FS “The Black Sheep Squadron”, HO/88-843, Holoman AFB, NM – 2008

However, even though the reduced radar cross-section (RCS) and the black radar attenuating paint make the F-117 more than suitable for DACT operations, the Nighthawk is not a dogfighting machine.

‘The Nighthawk is a fighter (F-117) in name only,’ Adam Daymude, former US Navy Ea-18G Growler pilot, explains on Quora.

‘Look at this “thing:”

Former F-117 Pilot tells the story of when his Nighthawk was nearly shot down over Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm

‘Let’s break it down by control axes:

‘Roll: the ailerons are way too small, but it’s good for stealth.

‘Yaw: Are you kidding me? The rudders are just barely enough to keep it pointed the right way, but it’s good for stealth.

‘Pitch: probably the most important control a fighter needs. No horizontal stab?! But it’s good for stealth.’

P-51 Mustang Vs F-117 Nighthawk

Daymude continues;

P-51 Mustang

‘Long story short, if this “fighter” went up against even a P-51 Mustang, it would be toast (The P-51 was an example of hyperbole. I purposefully picked one of the oldest fighters most people know about to illustrate how bad the F-117 would be in air to air combat.) Gen 4 or higher aircraft would probably save their missiles for a harder target and just get a guns kill.

‘I want to clarify my position: the F-117 is NOT a fighter, despite its F designation. That in absolutely no way detracts from what a marvel this aircraft was for its time. As a first gen stealth aircraft built using slide rules and pocket calculators, it proved stealth a viable concept that performed even better than we had dreamt.’

Daymude concludes;

‘Because of the lessons learned with the Have Blue program, we are now a full generation of aircraft ahead of potential adversaries. And I stick to my earlier prediction that a P-51 Mustang would mop the floor with a Nighthawk. Of course, it would! A-A combat is what is was designed for.’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

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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