F-117 Nighthawk "Stealth Fighter" Display at RIAT 2002

Perhaps those military dudes thought this stuff added a bit of atmosphere and awe to the proceedings, but I'm not sure that all the mums and dads with little children were amused by these guys waving automatic weapons around.   A sign saying "use of deadly force authorized" underlines how over the top the security around the F-117 was.

Of course the F-117 always was surrounded by very high security.   Although it first flew in 1981, it didn't make its first public appearance until 1990.   Up to that time all flights were made at night, which must have been tough on the pilots and their families.   Since they also do all of their military operations at night, it's no wonder that the plane was given the name "Night hawk".

The F-117 is now a frequent performer at American airshows, even quite small ones.   All of the 54 aircraft in operation are based at Holloman air base in New Mexico, so I assume that it's not often seen outside America.

A takeoff is one thing I've never seen at an America airshow - normally they only do flypasts.

It's a strange looking plane and the perspectives, like the length of one wing versus the other, often look wrong.

Despite the "F-117" fighter designation, and the fact that it's operated by two fighter squadrons, the Nighthawk is really a tactical attack aircraft.   Although it can theoretically be armed with air-to-air missiles, in practice it usually only carries two 2000 pound laser-guided bombs, which are carried internally to avoid radar reflections.   It doesn't even have guns - the four things poking out the front of the aircraft are part of the instrumentation for determining airspeed and such like.

Despite having seen the F-117 flying several times before, I really didn't get any decent photos of it until this year.

click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format

The F-117 is a little bigger than the initial impression you get - it's about the same size as an F-15 Eagle.   It has a whole range of tricks to make it stealthy, starting with the dark, low contrast paint scheme which makes it so difficult to see at night (or photograph during the day), it's covered in radar-absorbent materials and its very shape is intended to deflect radar away from the radar station.   Its two jet engines are quiet and produce very little smoke, and the outlets from the engines, visible at the rear of the aircraft, mix cool air with the hot exhaust to reduce the type of heat signature that a heat-seeking missile could lock on to.   The unusual "butterfly" tail is designed to shield the exhausts so missiles can't see them.

The F-117 flew with total impunity above downtown Baghdad during the Gulf War, without receiving a single hit.   However in 1999, during the Kosovo war, one was shot down.   The serbs had previously been firing surface to air missiles at aircraft blindly, without using their radar, to avoid coming under attack from anti-radar missiles themselves; however, it seems that they somehow managed to achieve lock on an F-117 and shoot it down.

The pilot evaded capture and was picked up by American helicopters; the remains of the F-117 are on display in a Serbian aircraft museum.

Here's another treat - seeing the Nighthawk landing, and with a parachute, what's more!

click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format

This is a very, very long runway, so he probably didn't need to use the parachute, but I'm sure glad he did.

Back on the ground and back to the excessive security!