Retired, but maybe not so much. Three F-117 Nighthawk stealth jets are participating in the Northern Lightning 2023 military exercise, organized by the United States Air National Guard, in the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, from August 7th to 18th.
As The Aviationist reported, the old stealth planes are flying daily, usually in pairs, using the “NIGHT” radio callsign associated with the F-117. Also according to the outlet, the aircraft are operating from the Air National Guard Base in Duluth, Minnesota, where they arrived on August 4th.
For the enthusiasts and photographers accompanying the military training, the appearance of the “Black Jets” was a complete surprise, after all there was no prior announcement about their participation.
— aniemyer (@aniemyer) August 4, 2023
Officially deactivated more than 15 years ago, the F-117s remain routinely used in training, acting mainly as stealth adversary aircraft, as well as in research and flight evaluations.
The remaining Nighthawks are based at Tonopah Test Range, a US Air Force (USAF) test center in the state of Nevada with severe access restrictions. In the past, the facility was home to the “Red Eagles” squadron, which between the 1960s and 1980s tested Russian MiG fighters acquired by the USAF on a clandestine basis.
Designed and built by Lockheed Martin, the F-117 was the world’s first stealth aircraft to enter service. The plane was introduced by the USAF in 1983, but its existence was revealed only in 1988, after the jet took part in the US government’s operation to overthrow the then Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega.
The aircraft’s exotic shape, with straight lines and sharp angles, was thought to reflect radar waves, which receive back a weak signal that is not identified as an airplane. In addition, the fuselage and wings of the F-117 were coated with a material that absorbs electromagnetic waves, whose formula is still kept secret.
Between the 1970s and 1980s, Lockheed Martin produced a total of 64 F-117 jets, which remained in the active USAF fleet until 2008.