The Lockheed F-117A "Nighthawk" was a low-observable/stealth strike fighter formerly operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). Developed using RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) technology and a radar-deflecting shape, the F-117 was designed to penetrate Soviet-era air defense and radar networks. Similar defenses had inflicted heavy casualties on US Air Force and Navy aircraft during the Vietnam War and on Israeli forces during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Incorporating lessons from these conflicts, designers from Lockheed-Martin's secretive "Skunk Works" began work on the "Have Blue" technology demonstrator. The basic design of the Have Blue aircraft heavily influenced the design of the F-117A, and by 1981 the F-117A had made its first flight. Two years later, in October of 1983, the F-117A had achieved operational status. However, it was not until November 1988 that the F-117's existence was officially released to the press and the public.
The F-117A first saw action in during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Nighthawks routinely penetrated Iraqi air defenses, repeated attacking several high-value targets within Baghdad. The F-117A went on to see action over Kosovo, Afghanistan and, in 2003, Iraq. One F-117A was lost over Kosovo, making it the only known loss of a Nighthawk in combat.
The Air Force retired the F-117 on 22 April 2008, a decision which was probably driven by the Air Force's fielding of the F-22 "Raptor" and the impending deployment of the F-35 Lightning by the USAF, USMC, and US Navy.
In Air Force BluesEdit
Although officially retired by the USAF, the F-117 makes several appearances as an operational aircraft in the AF Blues universe. The aircraft first appeared during the Badger Ops story arc, in which Barbie Dahl and his wingman, "Bert," were assigned to the secretive program after completing their (somewhat painful) training in UAV co-operation at Creech AFB.
Ordered to patrol the Badger Ops range in search of a super-secret stealth aircraft, supposedly similar to a similar Russian design, the two pilots initially had little luck. However, some intuition and creative flying on the part of Barbie allowed the two pilots to locate and down the mysterious aircraft. Much to Barbie's chagrin, he discovered that the mysterious aircraft was in fact an F-117, converted to serve as an RPV.
The success of this exercise lead to Barbie's, Bert's, and eventually Deadlock's, posting to the 69th PNIS. Barbie and Bert would again shoot down at least one more F-117, this time over Alaska, when the remotely piloted stealth jet had gone astray and was in danger of violating Russian airspace.