F-117s To Fly Another 10 Years


The officially retired F-117 stealth fighter will fly long into retirement, according to a Request For Information issued by the Air Force and uncovered by msn.com. In the document, the USAF is asking potential contractors to maintain an unspecified number of Nighthawks in stealthy flying condition until at least 2034. The type was retired from frontline service 15 years ago, but it wasn’t long before they turned up in fuzzy long-lens images in online forums.

The Air Force is somewhat more open about their use of the aircraft and admits they’re helping to train the current generation of fighter pilots in tactics against stealthy adversaries. As such the planes have to be in top flying condition and their radar deflecting and absorbing structures maintained. Since all those processes were and are classified, the field of potential bidders for the contract is likely pretty small. The operational F-117s are based at the Tonopah Test Range, a top-secret facility about 150 miles north of Las Vegas.

MSN says the Air Force has about 45 F-117s (only 59 were built), at least 10 of which are destined for museums. Before they can be donated they have to be stripped of all their military might, and that’s part of the contract.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. “The operational F-117s are based at the Tonopah Test Range, a top secret facility about 150 miles north of Las Vegas, which was also their home base when they were on the offical inventory”

    They were based at Holloman AFB in New Mexico from 1992 to retirement in 2007.

  2. I bet that the company that gets the maintaince contract will either be owned by the Communist Chinese or will be purchased shortly after they get the contract.Through Chinese oversight any secrets needed by the Communist Chinese will be available to them.The US Government just allowed the Communist Chinese to purchase prime farmland near an Air Force base in South Dakota that controls a lot of the UAVs.They can study all the communications from the base to satellites to the drones.

    • The human species does seem to engage in self defeating behavior across a wide range of domains! At the GA level, one only need to review the post accident reports, then ask yourself,
      “Why the hell did he/she do that?!!”

    • I’ll bet that you are wrong.
      Export controlled means export controlled. I work on documents, for example, that require me to keep my office closed to non-US citizens.

    • Famous statement “Be as wise as serpents, but harmless as doves”. Paraphrased for the new millennium, “Outsmart the commies but don’t be like them”. Thank you Jesus.

  3. This is kinda bizarre. First you retire them and now they’re gonna fly 10 more years? I’d be curious to know why this is happening and training others seems a bit strange, at least to me. As I learned long ago, there’s the reason you give and then there’s the real reason.

    • It’s not uncommon to keep flying military aircraft for training purposes. Sometimes the aircraft are transferred to civilian contractors who operate them. It’s a good way to get more use out of expensive assets, while training current pilots against a wider range of aircraft.

    • It’s also about the insane military budget process, reliability of ongoing congressional budget support, the need for modernization of equipment and the missions assigned. In other words, it’s a juggling act. Taking these airplanes off the active role and putting them into another budget compartment is akin to playing a shell game. The airplanes thusly kept ‘active’ will still be available for use IF the need arises. Meanwhile, the reason given to keep them maintained can be as stated here. The alternative is to stash them in Tucson. This is a far better way to do it and fits your postulation, Richard.

      I wouldn’t at all be surprised if a few of these airplanes didn’t suddenly get pressed into service as an alternative to using a higher value asset like the F-22. OR … suddenly show up as a QF-117 but not for target practice. I have some other ideas, too. Let’s just see.

      • See:

        THIS asset is more important just now so juggling the budget source for the F-117A is what’s going on … as I already said.