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.
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.
‘Look at this “thing:”
‘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.’
‘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.’
‘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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