Why the F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter was retired early by the USAF?

At present, our first impression of stealth fighters is often a few classic fighters such as the F-22 of the US military.

F-22 Raptor

Although these fighters are more beautiful, we should also pay attention to another fighter called the F-117, because it is the real originator of the stealth fighter. Its development and deployment paved the way for the emergence of a series of stealth fighters, which has an important historical position.

It is understood that the F-117, nicknamed “Nighthawk”, was officially commissioned in 1982 and ended its mission only 26 years later, while the F-15 and other fighters deployed at the same time are still in service today. The reason why this fighter is so short-lived is to a large extent closely related to its stealth performance, and a lot of sacrifices have been made for this.

According to the technical indicators disclosed by the U.S. military, the stealth of the aircraft is unmatched by other fighters such as the F-22. As we all know, the ability of a fighter to maintain its stealth mainly depends on many aspects such as the shape and structure of the fuselage and the selection of materials, specifically radar absorbant paint. And “Nighthawk” shows impressive features in this regard, and its appearance is designed according to stealth characteristics. Although the development time was later, the F-22 fighter had to sacrifice some of its stealth in order to highlight other performances such as supersonic cruise.

Traditionally, aircraft development will consider whether the streamline features are more significant, which not only affects air resistance, but also affects factors such as bomb load and range. However, in the process of building the F-117, the developers took a different approach, breaking people’s perception of aerodynamics. It is because of this design that many American industry technical experts are full of complaints, “What kind of aircraft is this? It’s not an exaggeration to say that it is a tank.” After some improvements to the exterior, the aircraft was inducted with the US military. Of course, this only means that it can fly into the sky. It is worth noting that the “Nighthawk” only has a maximum flight speed of Mach 0.8, and the range is only a few hundred kilometers.

Of course, the appearance of the F-22 “Raptor” has become an important external cause for the early retirement of the F-117 “Nighthawk” fighter. After the F-117 appeared, it gave the U.S. military the pleasure of owning a stealth fighter, but the lack of comprehensive performance was gradually enlarged, leading to its elimination. In this context, the U.S. military proposed the idea of developing a new stealth fighter, which is the F-22 Raptor. Although this fighter has various performances such as stealth and maneuverability, the overall performance of this jet is very good. As a result, when the F-22 “Raptor” fighter jets entered service, the F-117 fighter jets were immediately ignored by the military.

The F-117 was based on the Have Blue technology demonstrator. The Nighthawk’s maiden flight took place in 1981 at Groom Lake, Nevada, and the aircraft achieved initial operating capability status in 1983. The aircraft was shrouded in secrecy until it was revealed to the public in 1988. Of the 64 F-117s built, 59 were production versions, with the other five being prototypes.

The F-117 was widely publicized for its role in the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Although it was commonly referred to as the “Stealth Fighter”, it was strictly an attack aircraft. F-117s took part in the conflict in Yugoslavia, where one was shot down by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) in 1999. The U.S. Air Force retired the F-117 in April 2008, primarily due to the fielding of the F-22 Raptor. Despite the type’s official retirement, a portion of the fleet has been kept in airworthy condition, and Nighthawks have been observed flying since 2009.

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