The Most Stunning F-117 Photos We’ve Seen Since Its ‘Retirement’

The F-117’s ‘active retirement’ is in full swing and one photographer captured them in incredible detail as they ripped through a canyon.

byTyler Rogoway|
F-117 flying low level through the California desert.
James Reeder


We have seen some great photos of the F-117 Nighthawks that continue to operate in developmental test and training roles. These images have improved incrementally since their use as aggressor and for test support became openly discussed by the Air Force, with the locales they could operate from expanding along with it. Now, one set of images, taken by aviation photographer James Reeder, is the best we've ever seen.

The photos in question were taken in the famed Sidewinder low-level route that circumnavigates much of the R-2508 range complex that sits atop the Mojave Desert and the many military test and training installations that dot it. This particular section of the route, which has steep canyon walls, provides an especially dramatic backdrop for military aircraft rocketing through. It is perhaps the best vantage point we have seen of the famous route since the 'Jedi Transition' through Rainbow Canyon was shut down to military aircraft after a deadly crash in 2019.

The Sidewinder low-level route depicted in the R-2508 instructional materials. (USAF)

While we have seen some great shots from a similar vantage point of F-117s, the lighting and knife edge profiles shown in the images below are truly exceptional. Every detail on the top half of the 'Black Jet' is highlighted and its planar exhausts are fully visualized in action.

James Reeder
James Reeder
James Reeder
James Reeder

James explained to us that he received a message about a pair of F/A-18s that would be flying through the route and that their pilots would love photos if he was out there. "I enjoy the interaction with the pilots, so I decided I could make it up there to get them some shots," Reeder said.

"Arriving at my perch of choice after a bit of a climb, I settled in and waited for what I thought would be a pair of F/A-18s. Imagine my surprise when I saw a tiny black jet rounding the turn and then another. When I realized that they were F-117s, I was so shocked, I almost forgot to shoot! I have never captured this aircraft in the wild before."

"When I saw the light on the aircraft as they approached, I knew I had been blessed with a great opportunity. Using my Canon 5Ds with the Canon 100-400mm lens and a 1.4 X teleconverter, I followed both aircraft and clicked off as many shots as my pathetically slow buffer and limited frame rate would allow. After they passed, I couldn't resist chimping my photos [looking through the photos in preview on the DSLR's screen] to make sure I had captured what I wanted. I was thrilled to say the least. I think I yelled something unintelligible to the other two guys out there and threw my hands in the air."

The day proved fruitful beyond the pairs of F-117s and F/A-18s.

"I also shot 5 F-15s and 8 F/A-18s and enjoyed seeing them all, but those two Nighthawks were the stars of the show that day!. Yes, I got the shots for the F/A-18 pilots."

Jarod Hamilton was also out there caught the video below that he shared on X. It is the ultimate companion to these incredible photos.

Bravo to James and Jarod for capturing these famed jets like never before during their 'active retirement.'

You can see more of James Reeder's stunning work on Instagram linked here.

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