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The first F-117A flew on June 18, 1981, and the first F-117A unit, the 4450th Tactical Group (renamed the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing in October 1989), achieved initial operating capability in October 1983. The F-117A first saw combat during Operation Just Cause on Dec. 19, 1989, when two F-117As from the 37th TFW attacked military targets in Panama.

The F-117A can employ a variety of weapons and is equipped with sophisticated navigation and attack systems integrated into a state-of-the-art digital avionics suite that increases mission effectiveness and reduces pilot workload. Detailed planning for missions into highly defended target areas is accomplished by an automated mission planning system developed, specifically, to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the F-117A.

The F-117A again went into action during Operation Desert Shield/Storm in 1990-1991 when the 415th and the 416th squadrons of the 37th TFW moved to a base in Saudi Arabia. During Operation Desert Storm, the F-117As flew 1,271 sorties, achieving an 80 percent mission success rate, and suffered no losses or battle damage. A total of 59 F-117As were built between 1981 and 1990. In 1989 the F-117A was awarded the Collier Trophy, one of the most prized aeronautical awards in the world.

The first F-117A was delivered in 1982, and the last delivery was in the summer of 1990. The F-117A production decision was made in 1978 with a contract awarded to Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, the "Skunk Works," in Burbank, Calif. The first flight was in 1981, only 31 months after the full-scale development decision. Air Combat Command's only F-117A unit, the 4450th Tactical Group, (now the 49th Fighter Wing, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.), achieved operational capability in October 1983.

Streamlined management by Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, combined breakthrough stealth technology with concurrent development and production to rapidly field the aircraft. The F-117A program has demonstrated that a stealth aircraft can be designed for reliability and maintainability. The aircraft maintenance statistics are comparable to other tactical fighters of similar complexity. Logistically supported by Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan AFB, Calif., the F-117A is kept at the forefront of technology through a planned weapon system improvement program located at USAF Plant 42 at Palmdale, Calif.

After 25 years of storied service, the F-117 Nighthawk, the Air Force's first stealth fighter, is about to retire. The technology that once made it a unique weapon system has now caught up to it and newer fighter aircraft are now joining the fleet. Still, the Nighthawk was the first of its kind, a fact anyone who has spent time around the aircraft is quick to point out.

The Air Force is saying goodbye to the F-117, but not to the effect it has had on modern warfare. Its successor, the F-22 Raptor, will continue the fight the Nighthawk started, which, according to retired Gen. Lloyd "Fig" Newton, one of the first F-117 pilots, is a hard job to fill.

"Whenever its nation called, the F-117 answered, providing capabilities that had never been known before," he said. "If we needed the door kicked in, the stealth was the one to do it. Never before had such an aircraft existed."

Modern technology may have caught up with the F-117, and new aircraft may be set to take its place on the tarmac, but none will ever be able to replace it.

TECHNICAL NOTES:

Armament: Up to 5,000 lbs. of assorted internal stores

Engines: Two General Electric F404-F1D2 engines of 10,600 lbs. thrust each

Crew: One

Maximum cruise speed: 684 mph

Range: Unlimited with aerial refueling

Ceiling: 45,000 ft.

Span: 43 ft. 4 in.

Length: 65 ft. 11 in.

Height: 12 ft. 5 in.

Weight: 52,500 lbs. maximum

source information : USAF

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