F-117 Stealth Jets Flew Directly Over Los Angeles On Another Mission Off The California Coast (Updated)

In a follow up to our reporting regarding Monday’s flight of a pair of F-117s Nighthawk stealth jets, which were officially retired over a decade ago, off the Southern California coast, another similar mission has occurred today and this time we have photos showing the F-117s in tow behind their test tanker. 

A ton of military aircraft activity has been underway around San Clemente Island, which the U.S. Navy controls. This includes private aggressor firms ATAC and Tactical Air Support Inc. flying their adversary jets, converted business jets and airliners that work as testbed aircraft for new sensors and communications, Omega Air private refueling tankers, as well as a number of Navy fighters and airborne early warning and control aircraft. The whole affair is occurring in conjunction with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group’s (CSG) Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPUTEX), which is the most complex integrated training a carrier strike group undergoes before a deployment. 

Added to this mix on Monday were a pair of F-117 Nighthawks that flew down to the warning areas off the SoCal coast with the help of Edwards AFB’s KC-135 test tanker flying under the callsign GHOST27. The F-117s flew under their new staple “KNIGHT” callsign. 

The F-117s stayed in the area a short while after being cleared in by a Navy E-2 Hawkeye. You can read the whole report of their radio communications in our past piece, but after a short while they headed back towards the Mojave Desert in tow behind GHOST27 before breaking off and heading to their home at the remote Tonopah Test Range Airport.

Now, two days later, they are at it again, but this time we have clear skies which resulted in some photos from our aviation photographer friends Ricky Schol and Christopher McGreevy

F-117s in tow behind Edwards AFB’s white and gray-colored test tanker. , Ricky Schol
A close up of one F-117 following behind the tanker as it cruised high over California. , Christopher McGreevy

The mission was anything but clandestine, with the F-117s in tow behind the tanker cruising directly over central Los Angeles and Long Beach in clear skies before heading out to sea. This is an unprecedented action by the usually very shy and officially retired Nighthawks. On Monday, they took a similar route, but it was above the cloud layer. The down-range activity also occurred a bit further south of where it happened on Monday, in an area commonly used by American carrier strike groups spinning up for deployment. It also looks as if the F-117s spent a bit more time playing with the assets in that area this time around. 

GHOST27’s Wednesday route. , adsbexchange.com

All this underscores the emerging reality that a handful of F-117s have taken on a low-observable (stealthy) aggressor role for both training and testing duties. Giving the Nimitz CSG the opportunity to test its skills and sensors against such a dissimilar and hard to detect target is clearly beneficial, especially as stealth aircraft and cruise missiles are beginning to proliferate around the globe.

You can read more of our analysis and background, as well as access our extensive back catalog on the saga of the F-117’s ongoing operations here

We will update this piece when more information comes available.


Here is audio from the flight:

The big question is what are they doing? This is speculation based on what we hear and know:

It sounds like the F-117s are working with two E-2Ds, at least to setup their runs. The Carrier Strike Group and its resident air wing feature an extreme degree of data-fusion across various sensor systems and the platforms that host those sensors. Namely, this falls under Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). Fusing various radar tracks from disparate radar systems operating on various bands and other sensor data allows for the tracking and even the targeting stealthy aircraft that would go undetected or without a weapons-engagement grade track without that networking and data fusion capability. The F-117 is likely playing the role of the stealthy aggressor to test the system and train crews to be familiar with what it is like actually dealing with a dissimilar low observable target. This would also call in line with the types of activities that occur during COMPUTEX. 

Make sure to check out Ricky Schol’s awesome Instagram page here and you can read all about Chris McGreevy’s unique adventure style of aviation photography in this past piece of ours. Check it out, you won’t be sorry you did!

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com