Photos have emerged of an heavily wrapped F-117 fuselage being hauled on a flatbed truck. The sighting occurred yesterday, near Creech AFB, alongside the Veterans Memorial Highway (U.S. Route 95). The highway directly connects Tonopah and Las Vegas. Tonopah Test Range Airport is where the F-117 program lived during its near decade-long period of secret seclusion, and where the aircraft have since returned for their post official retirement phase of their lives.
The airframe appears to be in a similar state as how most of the F-117s are stored at Tonopah, with their wing sections removed, and in this case, the aircraft's twin "v" tails appear to be absent as well. Both sections are likely stored under the aircraft for transport.
Although we can't say with absolute certainty where the aircraft is headed, we can speculate with confidence that this will be its final voyage. In accordance with last year's Pentagon budget, the F-117 fleet is now slowly being taken off Type-1000 reserve storage status and permanently retired of—a process that will take over a decade to finish. The F-117s may end up at the Pentagon's boneyard (AMARG) adjacent to Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona or they could be destroyed, it isn't clear at this time. Four aircraft per year will pulled from Tonopah to be permanently retired or disposed of under the plan.
The F-117's airframe was sensitive enough at the time of their retirement from front-line service a decade ago to necessitate their storage in climate controlled hangars at Tonopah Test Range Airport, and by the photos released of the aircraft entombed in their hangars at the secretive base, they still were adorned with radar absorbent material.
Although the coatings are likely dated by now, they still may pose a security and even a health risk. As such, any aircraft that will be put to pasture, cut up, or possibly sent to a museum, would require some serious work. It's possible this work is being done at AMARG or possibly by Lockheed at Plant 42 or at another site before the jet continues on to its final resting place.
It is worth noting that Lockheed and the USAF destroyed a developmental F-117 airframe (Article #784) around the time of the type's official retirement due to the lack of a place to store it and as a test as to how to dispose of the jets. Since then rumors have circulated that some of the "Black Jets" have been ripped apart and buried at Tonopah Test Range Airport as well.
With all this in mind, it isn't likely the last time we will see an F-117 being trucked south like this one, which represents a bitter-sweet end to such an iconic piece of American ingenuity. But at the same time the fact that the F-117, a tiny handful of which were still flying as late as 2016, requires this level of care just to meet its final end is a testament to just how far ahead of its time the airframe was when it first took to the skies.
And with the F-35A coming online, finally replacing the F-117's 2,000lb class precision weapons delivery capability in a stealthy tactical package, and who knows what else exists in the classified world, the Nighthawk's legendary career is about to become a prominent page in the annals of aviation and warfare history.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com