The F-117A Nighthawk is the world's first operational aircraft designed to exploit low-observable stealth technology. The unique design of the single-seat F-117A provides exceptional combat capabilities. About the size of an F-15 Eagle, the twin-engine aircraft is powered by two General Electric F404 turbofan engines and has quadruple redundant fly-by-wire flight controls. Air refuelable, it supports worldwide commitments and adds to the deterrent strength of the U.S. military forces.
The F-117A can employ a variety of weapons and is equipped with sophisticated navigation and attack systems integrated into a state-of-the-art digital avionics suite that increases mission effectiveness and reduces pilot workload. Detailed planning for missions into highly defended target areas is accomplished by an automated mission planning system developed, specifically, to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the F-117A.
Streamlined management by Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, combined breakthrough stealth technology with concurrent development and production to rapidly field the aircraft. The F-117A program has demonstrated that a stealth aircraft can be designed for reliability and maintainability. The aircraft maintenance statistics are comparable to other tactical fighters of similar complexity. Logistically supported by Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan AFB, Calif., the F-117A is kept at the forefront of technology through a planned weapon system improvement program located at USAF Plant 42 at Palmdale, Calif. The Air Force thinking today is that it will phase out the Nighthawks after 2018.
The first F-117A was delivered in 1982, and the last delivery was in the summer of 1990. The F-117A production decision was made in 1978 with a contract awarded to Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, the "Skunk Works," in Burbank, Calif. The first flight was in 1981, only 31 months after the full-scale development decision. Lockheed-Martin delivered 59 stealth fighters to the Air Force between August 1982 and July 1990. Five additional test aircraft belong to the company.
Air Combat Command's only F-117A unit, the 4450th Tactical Group, achieved operational capability in October 1983. Since the F-117’s first Air Force flight in 1982, the aircraft has flown under different unit designations, including the 4450th Tactical Group and the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at Tonapah Test Range, NV; the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing, Nellis AFB, NV; the 410th Flight Test Squadron/410th Test Squadron, Palmdale, CA; and Detachment 1, Test Evaluation Group, also at Holloman, which falls under the 53rd Wing, Eglin AFB, FL.
The stealth fighter emerged from the classified world while stationed at Tonapah Airfield with an announcement by the Pentagon in November 1988 and was first shown publicly at Nellis in April 1990. The 4450th TG was deactivated in October 1989, and was reactivated as the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing.