USAF to complete aerial refueling certification of retired F-117 with KC-46 This Month

USAF to complete aerial refueling certification of retired F-117 with KC-46 This Month

By Dario Leone
Mar 20 2024
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Aerial refueling certification of retired F-117 with KC-46 to complete this month

Even though the US Air Force retired the Lockheed F-117 from “official” service it plans to complete certification of the Nighthawk on its newest tanker, the Boeing KC-46, by the end of this month, Aviation Week reports.

In fact, the service said it plans to complete certification of the first stealth aircraft on the Boeing KC-46 by the end of March 2024, as the Pegasus continues its certification process. Noteworthy, even though the Pegasus has been certified to pass fuel to almost all potential receiver aircraft, it has not reached initial operational capability.

KC-46 cleared to operationally refuel almost all other US military receivers

An Air Force spokesperson confirmed to Aviation Week that Andrew Hunter, the USAF’s acquisition boss mentioned the inclusion of the F-117 in testimony to the House armed services projection forces subcommittee earlier this month. Hunter added that the A-10 is not cleared for operational refueling, while other aircraft awaiting certification include the E-2D Hawkeye, C-32B transport and the new B-21 bomber. Air Mobility Command has cleared the KC-46 to operationally refuel almost all other US military receivers.

The spokesperson said that “The B-21 currently does not have test dates. However, it is a top priority, and testing will begin as soon as an aircraft becomes available for the test community.”

The USAF and Boeing are still working on a full redesign of the KC-46’s remote vision system as the tanker progresses through testing. This design, known as RVS 2.0, was originally expected to be certified and installed beginning this year. However, Hunter told lawmakers that installation is now expected to slip until 2026.

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F-117 Nighthawk brought out of retirement

Nighthawks were brought out of retirement by the USAF for training purposes, with the F-117s popping up across the country on a sporadic basis. Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, Air National Guard boss, said in 2021 the Guard had recently used F-117s to serve as surrogate cruise missile targets in an exercise.

“When you look at 117s that come and land and do that stuff, they’re a stealth platform, right? Early days of stealth, but they’re still a stealthy platform,” he said at the time. “So they can simulate things out there like cruise missiles that we would actually face. So are they a perfect platform for a cruise missile defense exercise? Absolutely.”

The aircraft was officially retired from operations in 2008.

Although officially retired, as already reported, 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.

As of January 2021, the USAF had 48 F-117s remaining in its inventory, and is disposing of approximately four aircraft each year. As airframes are disposed, they are offered to museums though the USAF Strategic Basing program and the National Museum of the USAF.

However, as already reported, according to a Request For Information (RFI) published on Oct. 3, 2022, the Air Force Test Center is looking for suppliers with experience and capabilities to keep the F-117 Nighthawk flying until 2034.

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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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