For several years they have been waiting for their last breath, but now we know that it will not happen again. F-117 “Nigthawk” stealth fighter planes from the state of Wisconsin will be available in razor blades and some of them to museums.
The Lockheed F-117 “Nigthawk” is without a doubt a unique aircraft. This is one of the first and probably the most popular “stealth” aircraft in the world. It is also a symbol of the American technological domination of the Cold War era, where “modern” stealth engines such as B-2, F-22 and F-35 have hatched. This is the first time for such a large scale the use of special materials absorbing radar radiation (so-called RAM materials). They covered the whole plane of the airplane. It owes its characteristic black color to them. The paint itself is not enough to make the F-117’s features. To reduce detection, engineers designed the individual parts of the hull so that their edges were aligned with one another. This allowed dissipation of incoming radio waves of radars in different directions, reducing the effective reflection surface. It is this feature that gives the F-117 its characteristic triangular shape.
However, the F-117 is a unique bomber not only because it uses advanced technology to reduce the detection of enemy radar. The technical novelties of the F-117 were much more. Among other things, the whole project was for many years a strict secret. In fact, the F-117 is also used as a mystery because bombers used by the USAF usually have the letter “B” (bomber). The letter “F” (fighter mark) was designed to confuse rivals from behind the iron curtain.
It was one of the first aircraft to utilize multiple fly-by-wire technology and active flight control systems. The use of these systems was necessary because the partial invisibility of the F-117 was achieved through an unusual hull layout. These features, combined with a specific construction system without a distinct tail portion, made this aircraft very unstable with all attempts at full manual control. In order for a plane to fly wherever this pilot wanted, all commanded commands had to be processed. It took care of the ultra-modern control system, but still, the F-117 was a very difficult aircraft to pilot. Among other things, practically all of the flight took place using a pre-programmed computer, which controlled the plane according to a pre-determined route.
Interestingly, the F-117 was not a supersonic aircraft. For the tasks planned for this bomber it was not necessary – he sailed in the sky at a cruising speed of about 1000 km / h. Its maximum ceiling was 10 kilometers, and the effective range was just over 3,000. kilometers. Interestingly, the F-117 bomber was a very light aircraft. Its own weight was just over 13 tons and weighed no more than 24 tons with full fuel tanks and armament.
For nearly 25 years, the F-117 has participated in three major conflicts. Battle baptism took place during the US invasion of Panama in 1989, where he dropped just two bombs. Later he participated in the First Gulf War, Yugoslavia, the invasion of Afghanistan and the Second Gulf War. During these conflicts, the F-117 mainly covered the night with strategic targets such as command centers, radar stations and other heavily protected targets. His main weapon was precision-controlled anti-radar missiles, bombs or missiles. The F-117 bomber was supposed to attack quietly, unnoticed and with great effectiveness.
Advanced “stealth” technology did not help to avoid the bombing of this bomber during Kosovo’s civil war. Involved in this conflict, NATO forces, mainly supported by the United States, were used to combat parts of the F-117 bombers. Because there is no “complete invisibility” for radar stations, the Americans were painfully hurt by the loss of this diligently guarded weapon in 1999. Then the Belgrade anti-aircraft forces using the very old ground-to-air missile system S-125 (developed in the USSR) was destroyed by the F-117. At the helm of the machine was then Lieutenant Colonel Dale Zelko, who during the “routine” mission he managed to catapult and survive shooting down.
To this day, the remains of the machine are stored in the Belgrade Museum of Aviation as a kind of trophy. Until now, this is the only confirmed shot down of “invisible” NATO radar machines. Interestingly, Dale Zelko and Colonel Zoltan Dani, who was the head of the rocket team, who hit the “night hawk” after years have met and are good friends. But the whole situation was a clear premise for the Pentagon and the media all over the world – F-117s were not as effective as they might have seemed at the time.
The decision to retire to the F-117 reserve was made in 2007. US Congress has decided to remove those aircraft from the US Air Force inventory. American soldiers were aware of the still great combat capabilities of the machine, so they opted for the F-117 to be able to bring them back to combat in the event of a sudden conflict. That’s how it was done – the machines were moved to the desert base of Tanopah, Nevada. There hidden in the hangars were supposed to wait for a spark that would stir them up again. Today, after 8 years of hangar, we already know that this is the definitive end of the F-117.
Maintaining planes in reserve is much cheaper than taking care of their combat readiness. Still, there are still plenty of measures to ensure adequate maintenance, maintenance and pilot training, and maintenance of the entire F-117 infrastructure. This involved costs that the US authorities decided to limit to zero.
In the case of many retired aircraft, there are enthusiasts trying to restore their ability to fly (this was the case with many “ex” USF aircraft, B-29). Such fate will not meet rather the F-117. Although the design of this machine is already over 35 years old, it still contains many solutions that the US does not want to disclose. Another issue is that the maintenance of the F-117 would be exceptionally embarrassing and costly, perhaps even more than the maintenance of Concorde, which, despite many wishes, still failed to “resurrect.” Los F-117 seems so determined: a dozen or so misses from the secrets of the planes will probably go to museums, and the rest will be sent to 309 Maintenance and Maintenance Group in Arizona. There they will be scrapped.
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