We were first to report on the arrival of F-117s at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport in California and to get confirmation that they were there to train against resident F-15C/Ds from the California Air National Guard's 144th Fighter Wing in an aggressor role. Now we are seeing amazing images coming from the historic deployment. This includes stunning captures from aviation photographers, as well as content from the 144th Fighter Wing itself, which marks a new disclosure paradigm for the officially retired F-117's second shot at life. The message couldn't be more clear: the jet is slowly stepping back out of the shadows after years of very shy operations.
The incredible image at the top of this article comes from Fred Taleghani, who goes by @cvvhrn on Twitter. He was among a handful of aviation photographers who made a special trip to Fresno to capture the F-117s in action at the relatively quaint public airfield. The results were stunning:
Fred's shots are absolutely stunning, but the Air Force has now finally gotten in on the act, too. The 144th Fighter Wing posted two videos showing the F-117s operating out of the airfield, although as of yesterday morning they told us they still had not been cleared to do an actual story on the highly unique training deployment. Apparently, that has since changed.
Beyond the videos posted above, the story and photos below were posted of the Pentagon's media aggregation site DVIDS. It is the first official organic story about the F-117's operations since the aircraft was retired in 2008:
The 144th Fighter Wing welcomed the arrival of two F-117 Nighthawk aircraft Sept 13, 2021 to the Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, to conduct dissimilar air combat training missions.
U.S. Air Force Col. Troy Havener, 144th Fighter Wing commander, said, “We have the distinct honor of being the first Air Force unit to host them for a full week of training,” referencing the Wing’s deliberate partnership building efforts and their demonstrated operational proficiency as critical to securing the training opportunity.
Over the next few days the 144th FW’s F-15 pilots will conduct multiple dissimilar air combat training missions with the F-117 pilots.
“This week we reap the benefits of two plus years of careful communication and determined coordination with agencies and leaders overseeing these unique USAF assets,” said Havener. “The training against integrated forces that include the F-117 will challenge and sharpen pilots, as well as build confidence in tactics and systems needed to defend our nation.”
Lt. Col. David Allamandola, 144th FW Advanced Programs Officer said, “Our Griffin pilots, operations, and maintainers, are thrilled to be able to participate in this unique opportunity. It is a very special privilege to do open air training missions with the F-117 Nighthawks.”
“This training offers incredible value for everyone involved and presents new challenges to test difficult tactics in a realistic environment. Not everyone gets to do this, so it’s been exciting creating the ground work with our partners to make this a reality,” said Allamandola. “The enthusiasm is contagious. We are incredibly thankful to our guests for their tireless efforts over an extended period of time to make this a reality. It’s been fantastic to see this plan come together.”
This is the first time that F-117 Nighthawks have landed in Fresno. Their presence immediately received interest from multiple media outlets and some members of the community.
Although officially retired, many F-117s remain airworthy and are used to support limited research and training missions based on overall cost effectiveness and their ability to offer unique capabilities.
As of January 2021, the U.S. Air Force has 48 F-117s remaining in its inventory, and is disposing of approximately four aircraft each year. As airframes are disposed, they are offered to museums though the USAF Strategic Basing program and the National Museum of the USAF.
Yesterday, Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek had also confirmed directly to The War Zone that "we are using the [F-117] aircraft for training as well as research." Previously, the service had only officially acknowledged that it was employing flyable Nighthawks for research purposes. Stefanek also said that "the aircraft are being flown by Air Force Test Center personnel," something that the Air Force has disclosed before.
Here are the photos from the 144th Fighter Wing:
The photos show one interesting thing. On one of the F-117s, shown in the video, the aircraft carries nothing in one weapons bay and a standard travel pod in the other. The other F-117, seen below, carries a different contraption. I believe I have seen this before. I can't say for sure, but I think these were built for moving golf clubs during away trips. They are yet another wacky facet of the F-117's intriguing history. The other bay may hold a golf bag still in one of these things, or some other larger pod. We can't tell from the photo.
Meanwhile, other F-117s have been busy too. A pair was recorded last night on a mission near Area 51 in Nevada, doing some test point work there, likely with the DYCOMS radar cross-section measurement facility. We have heard of these operations plenty of times before. But in this case, one of the F-117's lost an engine and made an emergency landing back at Tonopah Test Range airport with only one of its F404 turbofans producing power. You can listen to the recording courtesy of our friends at Dreamlandresort.com by clicking here.
Nobody has covered the F-117's new lease on life like The War Zone has. We can confidently say that such open discussion about the use of the F-117's post-retirement on an official level is unprecedented and it is truly good to see, but we have to wonder why it took so long?
It really seems like it is time for the USAF to really open up about the F-117's renaissance. The secrecy surrounding the program is almost laughable at this point. Like pretty much any tactical aircraft program, there are surely aspects of it that need to remain confidential, but considering these jets were flying at airshows for nearly 20 years before being retired, treating them as some sort of hush-hush asset draws more attention than just being open about them. Clearly, there is a very interesting story to tell here about how the "Dark Knights" came to be and who made it happen. Although this latest post mentioning their adversary training mission is encouraging, why not expand on that and celebrate the jet's amazing legacy and the folks who keep them in the air?
For now, at least we can bask in the glow of these amazing images, snapped some 13 years after the F-117 program officially called it quits.
Author's note: A huge thanks to Fred Taleghani for sharing his amazing photos with us. Make sure to follow him over on Twitter at @cvvhrn.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com