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Old 04-22-2008, 08:29 AM   #1 (permalink)
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View: F-117 is leaving the same way it arrived -- stealthily
Source: LA Times
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F-117 is leaving the same way it arrived -- stealthily
The Air Force and Lockheed Martin are giving a secret retirement send-off to the world's first radar-evading fighter.
By Peter Pae
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

April 22, 2008

They were born shrouded in mystery in a windowless building in Burbank. They flew combat missions over Serbia and Iraq virtually invisible to enemy radar. And today, the black, bat-like F-117A Night Hawks will fly quietly into the night as stealthily as they came.

The last four of the world's first stealth fighters will make their final flights from Palmdale to a secret desert base in Nevada, where they will be locked up indefinitely in a secure concrete hangar.

But unlike the passing of other notable planes, there will be no public fanfare or farewell for these mysterious aircraft that revolutionized aerial warfare. The F-117 is still so cloaked in secrecy that only employees and retirees who worked on the program can attend its retirement ceremony at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Skunk Works plant in Palmdale. A few aerospace reporters have been invited, but they had to be U.S. citizens.

"Some aspects of the plane are still classified," said Dianne Knippel, spokeswoman for Lockheed, whose legendary Skunk Works design house, formerly in Burbank and now in Palmdale, developed and built the aircraft.

The hushed send-off is no surprise to aviation buffs and historians who have followed one of the nation's most secretive aircraft programs since the Pentagon covertly launched it more than 30 years ago.

"It reflects a hyper-security culture that has accompanied this thing since the beginning," said John Pike, a defense policy analyst with . "It's the nation's first stealth technology, and as a result you might imagine all the caution with security."

The single-seat F-117 was the first plane that could evade radar detection; it was designed to fly into heavily defended areas to knock out radar installations and anti-aircraft missile batteries, clearing the way for other fighters and bombers. It was also used to destroy military command and communication centers.

The planes cost $45 million each, and 59 were built. The F-117 first flew in combat during the 1989 Panama invasion that led to the capture of dictator Manuel Noriega. F-117s were also among the first aircraft to strike targets in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In 2006, with the introduction of the F-22, a fighter that features the latest stealth technology, the Pentagon decided to retire all 59 of the F-117s, leading to today's final flights.

The retirement also serves as a reminder of the decline of the aerospace industry in Southern California. The plane was built in the 1980s when Lockheed's Burbank plant employed more than 17,000 workers. The Burbank plant closed in 1994 and Lockheed now employs about 4,000 engineers in Palmdale.

Although a number of companies in the region still make aircraft parts and develop advanced weapon systems, large-scale manufacturing has mostly disappeared. The C-17 military cargo plane plant in Long Beach and the F-18 fuselage factory in El Segundo are about all that remain.

"It does show how dramatically the industry has changed in Southern California," said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

The F-117 retirement ceremony is likely to be a somber event mostly attended by retirees who can finally talk about the aircraft -- if only to a certain extent.

"I would rather not get into it. I'm not sure if that is still classified," said Sherman N. Mullin, the former president of Lockheed's Skunk Works who led the F-117 program in the 1980s, when asked how the plane was transported from Burbank to its test flights in Nevada.

He declined to confirm news reports at the time that massive C-5 Galaxy military cargo planes were used to "deliver or pick up secret cargo" -- the stealth -- in the dead of night. The speculation arose after residents complained about aircraft noise from Burbank airport late at night, according to a 1984 Times article. The plane was assembled in a hangar next to the airport.

During its development, the F-117 flew only at night to avoid prying eyes and Soviet spy satellites, thus its name Night Hawk.

The project was so secretive that Mullin couldn't even tell his wife what he did.

"She didn't know for 10 years," Mullin said, adding that every Friday, the entire complex was locked up for the weekend and no one was allowed to take work off-site. "I don't think she minded. She liked that I didn't bring home any work on the weekends."

Monday's telephone interview from his home in Oxnard was the first time Mullin had talked to a reporter about the F-117, more than a quarter-century after he led its development efforts.

Mullin said his fondest memory was a Friday afternoon in 1983 when the Air Force declared that the plane was ready for combat. But it would be four years before the government acknowledged its existence.

"It was an afternoon of great emotional satisfaction for me," Mullin said. "But we didn't celebrate. We didn't do a damn thing. We just locked up the place and went home."

I grew up around Skunkworks. We all know SR71s flew out of Burbank Airport from time to time, we just couldn't see them take off in the dark nights.

This plane, I never got to see.
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Old 04-22-2008, 11:04 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I did...they are spooky big awesome beautiful ugly creatures,
like metallic bats.
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Old 04-22-2008, 05:27 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
Two of them were parked at the Van Nuys airport a couple of years back - security prevented anyone from going behind them to look at the engine outlets, but other than that they were up for display.

This seems a good time to rub in the fact that you live in NY now, missing these opportunities
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Old 04-22-2008, 06:00 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Fantastic design, amazing technology, and badass. I'll miss it.

Still, I find myself wondering what it will be replaced with. I may not be big on war, but I love toys. There is no greater toy than military aircraft.
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Old 04-22-2008, 06:46 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by willravel
Fantastic design, amazing technology, and badass. I'll miss it.

Still, I find myself wondering what it will be replaced with. I may not be big on war, but I love toys. There is no greater toy than military aircraft.
I, too wondered this. It looks like they believe the F-22 can do the same job. I never knew that there were actually so few ever produced. They really did give the US air superiority in the first Gulf war.
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Old 04-22-2008, 06:52 PM   #6 (permalink)
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The F-22 looks too much like the F-15 to get me excited. Don't get me wrong, the performance stats are awesome, but the F-117 is fucking sexy.
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Old 04-22-2008, 07:32 PM   #7 (permalink)
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It is sad indeed to see it go. The first time I saw one, it was parked in an airfield in Colorado in plain sight as we approached the airport in Colorado Springs. I'll never forget that sight, either.
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Old 04-26-2008, 12:14 PM   #8 (permalink)
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I saw one for the first time when I was standing here
<iframe width="425" height="350" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src="http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&amp;ll=41.20304,-73.254773&amp;spn=0.000944,0.001824&amp;t=h&amp;z=19&amp;output=embed&amp;s=AARTsJqzARj-Z8VnW5pkPMLMmZbqrJcYpw"></iframe><br /><small><a href="http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&amp;ll=41.20304,-73.254773&amp;spn=0.000944,0.001824&amp;t=h&amp;z=19&amp;source=embed" style="color:#0000FF;text-align:left">View Larger Map</a></small>
the night the Afghanistan operations started. My brother and I were out walking, and heard an unfamiliar jet engine overhead. Based on size compared to my thumb at arm's length, it couldn't have been more than about 3000 feet up, and was traveling in the neighborhood of 600 mph. I imagine they fly this far north to catch the Gulf Stream and cut some time and fuel cost over the Atlantic.

I've heard from USAF retirees that they were flying well before they officially became operational, although I'm skeptical of the Vietnam stories.

edit: I was talking to my mom the other day, and I remembered this completely wrong. It was the night the Afghanistan campaign started that I saw the F117. It was another military plane, maybe a B-52 the night Gulf War II started.

Last edited by MSD; 05-31-2008 at 01:42 PM..
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Old 04-26-2008, 07:31 PM   #9 (permalink)
Saw an F-117 at an airshow in Hickory, NC when I was 10-12. I also distinctly recall being reminded of a bat.

I also wonder why the retirement of a very effective weapon system. Can the F-22 replicate the F-117's effectiveness? Probably, but since it's not (to the best of my knowledge) deployed outside the US, we don't yet know how it stacks up. We also know the Russians have developed techniques which render the F-117 visible, techniques which the F-22 may be better adapted to countering whether structurally or electronically.

There's also the rumour of an equally "black" project; a stealthy variable-geometry fighter-bomber possibly intended to replace the F-111 and compete with the SU-32 Fullback. If the "Switchblade" proposed and funded by Northrup Grumman performs as intended, it would certainly be a worthy and much more capable successor to the F-117.

I do note with some glee, however, that amidst all this high-tech wizardry, impressive as it is, the good old A-10 soldiers on.
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Old 04-26-2008, 08:02 PM   #10 (permalink)
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The Ascari A-10?!
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Old 04-27-2008, 06:47 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Location: Pats country
Originally Posted by willravel
The Ascari A-10?!
haha, that one is cool, but a depleted uranium spewing, tank killing, armored cockpit, beast is the real deal.

"Religion is the one area of our discourse in which it is considered noble to pretend to be certain about things no human being could possibly be certain about"
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Old 05-05-2008, 08:14 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Old 05-05-2008, 08:26 AM   #13 (permalink)
... a sort of licensed troubleshooter.
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There should be feet with red and white striped socks under the plane. That'd be funny.
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goblin, goodbye, wobbly

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