F-117A "Nighthawk" (also known as the Stealth Fighter)

The F-117A became the first operational aircraft designed to employ radar evading (stealth) technology.  In 1978, President Carter cancelled the B-1 bomber program in favor of the development of a more advanced, hi-tech "stealth" fighter/bomber.  This project was top-secret and became the most talked about and speculated secret in the Mojave Desert throughout the 1980's.

The project began at Lockheed's "Skunk Works" in Burbank, California.  In high school, while working at a hardware store near the Skunk Works for the summer, one of the authors had the opportunity to observe the people who worked at the top-secret facility.  They seemed mysterious and reserved compared to the other workers from Lockheed that came into the store.

The first flight of an F-117 took place in 1981 at the Air Force's top secret Groom Lake facility - the infamous "Area 51" in southern Nevada.  Rumors and sightings of this unusual aircraft continued through the 1980's and, in 1985, one of these mysterious aircrafts crashed.  The accident took place north of Lake Isabella, in the Southern Sierra Nevada's, and, at the time, the Air Force refused to identify the plane.  Years later, after the F-117 became declassified, the Air Force admitted that this accident was the crash of an F-117 and both the plane and its pilot were lost.

After being declassified, the F-117 stealth fighter became a household name and has consistently appeared at the Edwards Air Show since the early 1990's.  At the 1994 Edwards Air Show, when the Thunderbirds were not available, the F-117's performed a similar acrobatic show.  This amazing, precision demonstration clearly removed the F-117's old nickname of "wobbling wombat" and proved that they are as agile as the Thunderbird F-16's.  Many people thought that such an oddly-shaped airplane would be unstable in flight but they were proven wrong.

During the various military conflicts of the 1990's and 2000's, the F-117 performed very well.  Not only is the "stealth" a big advantage, but this new aircraft is extremely efficient.  A target that used to take an entire fleet of aircraft to attack now takes only a single, fuel-efficient F-117 flown by a single pilot!

Stealth design and technology started with the F-117 and soon became part of the B-2's design.  It is also used for both the F/A-22 Raptor and F-35.  Lockheed Martin won the contracts to build both the F/A-22 and F-35 because of their superior knowledge of stealth technology.

The impressive angular design of the F-117.  Is this the shape of things to come?
The shapes and angles of the F-117 were carefully designed to deflect the enemy's radar beams is such a way that they are not returned to an enemy's radar dish.  This is one aspect of how "stealth" is achieved.
At an air show, the F-117 is always heavily guarded.  Notice the unusual, zig-zag shape of the landing gear door.
In the foreground is one of the two bombs (its total carrying capacity) carried by the F-117.  Notice the "ED" on the plane's tail signifying that this F-117 is stationed at Edwards for flight testing.
This F-117's ground crew is getting ready to move her as the Air Show winds down.
Side view of the F-117.  You can see the tail section of another legend of Lockheed, the U-2, on the right side of the picture and the Edward's control tower in the background.
An F-117 makes a right turn during an aerial demonstration revealing the top of the airplane.
This approaching view reveals an oddly shaped airplane...
...but a few seconds later, it looks like a rather sleek flying machine.
Making a sweeping left turn over the crowd gives a closer view of the bottom of the aircraft.
Here, the F-117 banks sharply to the left demonstrating how quickly it can turn.
An F-117 seen from a distance looks like an Indian arrowhead.
Here, the F-117 flies slowly by the crowd with its landing gear down.
Another view with the landing gear down.
Notice how all three landing gears fold up towards the front of the airplane - different than most other fighter aircraft.

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