For the first time in 15 years, the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum will welcome a new aircraft to its collection. An F-117 “Nighthawk” stealth bomber will arrive at the Museum in early March. Developed by the Lockheed Corporation, the F-117 “Nighthawk” gained worldwide attention for its role during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. The F-117 fleet included 64 aircraft, which the U.S. Air Force retired in 2008.
“When we were informed this F-117 would become available, we jumped at the chance to continue at collecting Cold War artifacts,” Museum Executive Director, Jeff Cannon explains, “The F-117 is a bookend in our collection as it helped to usher-in the end of the Cold War. It represents a huge innovation leap that started with our SR-71 and U2.” The F-117, which will be displayed at the museum was a part of the “Nighthawk” testing and evaluation program. Holding the F-117 record for most test flight hours, it was utilized as a “test mule” for systems updates. “As a technological evolution in stealth technology, the F-117 is a great research tool of modern technology the Museum will use in our STEM programs,” says Curator, Brian York.
Regarded as the pinnacle of Cold War stealth technology, The F-117 “Nighthawk” and its history as a test bed for the entire program completes the story that developed out of other aircraft in the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum collection. York says The F-117 provides another key artifact of the Gulf War and is central to wrapping up the events that signaled the end of the Cold War. Paired with the Museum’s B-1A, it serves as a deeper dive into Strategic Air Command’s last war.
The F-117 “Nighthawk” is a single-seat aircraft powered by two non-afterburning turbofan engines capable of reaching a maximum speed of 623 miles per hour at high altitude. The unusual shape featuring radar-absorbent flat sheets covering the F-117 weighed almost one ton. The museum’s F-117 will spend some time in restoration before moving to into its new permanent home.
“The bulk of the restoration work on the F-117 will be fabrication, from building wing leading and trailing edges to nose sheet metal, air data probes and engine inlet grids,” explains Museum Restoration Manager, Andy Beemer. “Fabrication is the bulk of the work and the biggest challenge.”
Restoration of the F-117 “Nighthawk” is estimated to be completed by Summer 2022.