F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter
The F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter was made famous for its role during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. She was the aircraft that fired the first shots of Desert Storm and lead the way into the most heavily defended city in the world at that time, Baghdad. With her stealth technology, she was easily able to penetrate enemy airspace undetected and strike her targets with laser like precision.
On the first night of the war, it was reported that the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk hit 80% of their designated targets with zero combat losses. Later reports were scaled back to a 41–60% success rate which is still pretty impressive. The F-117 was the only aircraft that the coalition would risk over Baghdad because it was so heavily defended. Most of the optically aimed AAA and infra-red SAMs were located on the outskirts of the city making it possible for other aircraft to hit targets inside the downtown Baghdad area.
F-117 Nighthawk – Wings Over the Gulf: First Strike Part (2/4)
During the Gulf War in 1991, the F-117 logged in approximately 6,905 flight hours scoring direct hits on 1,600 high-value targets while flying 1,300 sorties in Iraq. She carried 500-2000 pound laser-guided bombs designed for hardened targets such as underground bunkers and aircraft hangers. Although the F-117 is designated “F” for fighter, she is a ground attack aircraft only and NOT a dogfighter.
The F-117 was specifically designed to be the world’s first invisible plane and defeat any enemy radar system. It is her unique design that made her stealth capabilities possible. Stealth technology has its advantages and disadvantages such as sacrificing performance for stealth. The F-117 Stealth Fighter is a ground attack aircraft that is NOT very maneuverable because of a high sweep wing angle of 50° degrees needed to deflect incoming radar waves.
Another disadvantage to stealth technology is the F-117’s speed and performance. This is due to lower engine thrust and losses in the inlet and outlet, a very low wing aspect ratio and a high sweep wing angle of 50° degrees as mentioned earlier. Because of these design considerations and no afterburner, the F-117 Nighthawk is limited to subsonic speeds. It is this revolutionary design that gives the F-117 a radar cross-section of about 0.001 m2 (0.0108 sq ft), which is about the size of a small bird on a radar screen.
Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk
The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk was proposed by Skunk Works Director Kelly Johnson and his assistant Ben Rich. In the early 1970’s the United States Air Force (USAF) approached Lockheed with a stealth concept for a first strike aircraft. Kelly Johnson proposed a rounded design which he believed the smoothly blended shapes offered the best combination of stealth and speed.
Kelly’s assistant Ben Rich, proposed faceted-angle surfaces which he believed would provide significant reduction in radar signature and that necessary aerodynamic control could be easily provided with computer units. In May 1975, a Skunk Works report titled “Progress Report No. 2, High Stealth Conceptual Studies” showed why the rounded concept was rejected in favor of the flat-sided design proposed by Ben Rich. Although both concepts were revolutionary, the flat-sided design proved to be stealthier.
This highly unusual design makes the F-117 Nighthawk aerodynamically unstable in all three aircraft principal axes. Constant flight corrections need to be made by a fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system to maintain controlled flight. Without this state-of-the-art fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system. It would be impossible for pilots to fly the F-117. The F-117 is just too aerodynamically unstable!
Experienced fighter pilots were both shocked and amazed at the unusual design of the F-117 Nighthawk. One pilot was quoted as saying that stated that when he first saw a photograph of the F-117 Nighthawk, he promptly laughed and thought to himself that the F-117 clearly can’t fly. He was right in a sense because early stealth aircraft such as the F-117 were specifically designed for minimal radar cross-section (RCS) rather than aerodynamic performance.
On June 18, 1981, the first YF-117A, serial number 79-0780, made its maiden flight from Groom Lake (Area 51), Nevada. That’s only 31 months after the full-scale development decision was made. The first production F-117A was delivered in 1982 and operational capability was achieved in October 1983. The F-117A Nighthawk 4450th Tactical Group would be stationed at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
F-117 Top Speed
The F-117 Top Speed is a modest Mach 0.92 (617 mph, 993 km/h) which is its maximum speed and cruise speed is at Mach 0.92. Because of the F-117’s design, she is not capable of super-sonic speeds. However, the F-117 Nighthawk’s lack of speed makes up for her invisibility to radar. Early stealth fighter designs were all about stealth, not aircraft performance.
The F-117 Nighthawk’s power-plant are 2 General Electric F404-F1D2 turbofans with 10,600 lbf (48.0 kN) each. She has a range of 930 nmi (1720 km) and a service ceiling of 45,000 ft (13,716 m). Wing loading is 67.3 lb/ft² (329 kg/m²) and the thrust to weight ratio is 0.40. The General Electric F404-F1D2 turbofans were a perfect fit for the F-117 Nighthawk and gave her maximum performance in spite of her unusual aerodynamic design.
In the early 1990’s, Lockheed proposed a new variant of the F-117 Nighthawk for the United States Navy (USN). This new variant would be suitable for carrier use and was dubbed the F-117N “Seahawk”. However, the United States Navy had no interest in the single mission capabilities of the F-117N “Seahawk”. The F-117N “Seahawk” would have differed from the F-117A Nighthawk in many different ways. The new variant would include a bubble canopy, reconfigured tail, a less sharply swept wing and elevators.
After the Navy shot down the F-117N “Seahawk” proposal, Lockheed submitted an updated proposal that included an a larger emphasis on the F-117N as a multi-role aircraft rather than just an attack aircraft. The new F-117B was a land-based variant that featured all of the F-117N capabilities. This variant was proposed to the United States Air Force (USAF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The renewed F-117N proposal was also known as the A/F-117X. The F-117N nor the F-117B were ordered by the Royal Air Force (RAF) or the United States Air Force (USAF). These aircraft could be fitted with a new ground-attack radar system with air-to-air capability. She also featured optional hard-points allowing for an additional 8,000 lbs (3,600 kg) of payload. In this new role, the F-117N “Seahawk” and F-117B could carry AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.
The F-117 Cockpit was very spacious for pilots compared to traditional fighter planes. She featured ergonomic displays and controls making the pilots job so much easier with everything at their fingertips. One of the problems pilots faced was their limited field of view. It was somewhat obstructed by the design of the canopy with a gigantic blind spot in the rear. Since the F-117 Nighthawk was an attack aircraft and not a dogfighter, the lack of visibility was not a huge problem for pilots.
The avionics inside the F-117 Nighthawk were state-of-the-art at that time and the core of this magnificent aircraft. Even though she featured stealth technology to evade enemy radar, she relied on her quadruple-redundant fly-by-wire flight controls, sophisticated navigation and attack systems integrated into a digital avionics suite. No other aircraft in the world at that time featured an avionics package like this!
Take a look at the F117 Cockpit photo below and see what it looks like from a fighter pilots point of view. As you can see, the F117 Cockpit is roomier and the ergonomic displays and controls are right in front of the pilot. Just like other fighter planes, the control stick is right in between the fighter pilots legs with the throttle on the left. This cockpit configuration was extremely efficient for pilots and relatively comfortable on long flights as well.
The F-117 Nighthawk’s sophisticated navigation and attack systems navigate primarily by using GPS and high-accuracy inertial navigation. All F-117 Nighthawk missions are coordinated by an automated planning system. This automated planning system can automatically perform all aspects of an attack mission including weapons release and safely return to base. The F-117 Nighthawk could technically fly a mission without a pilot in command!
11 Little Known Facts About The F-117 Nighthawk – F-117 Is Still Flying
The Amazing Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk was a flying legend during her time and exceeded all expectations when the moment of truth arrived. She performed flawlessly in combat and proved to be the most valuable asset in the United Air Force’s inventory. Even though she wasn’t very fast, she was nearly invisible to radar making her the world’s first stealth fighter to enter service. She has paved the way for a new generation of stealth fighters with unimaginable capabilities.
There were a total of 64 F-117 Stealth Fighters built, 5 YF-117As and 59 F-117As. The F-117 Nighthawk exclusively saw service with the United States Air Force (USAF). The Royal Air Force (RAF) was offered to buy the F-117 Nighthawk during the Reagan administration but declined for reasons unknown. Each F-117 Nighthawk cost approximately $42.6 million USD (flyaway cost) and $111.2 million USD (average cost).
A Flyaway cost is the basic cost of production including the tools to make the aircraft. It does not take into account research and development and supplementary costs for support equipment, avionics and weapons systems. The F-117 Nighthawk developed from the Lockheed Have Blue program. The F-117 Nighthawk first entered service in October of 1983 and was retired on April 22, 2008 when she took her last flight.
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