F-117 Back In Action?


Photo by Richard Van Der Meulen

Military aviation forums are buzzing with reaction to a Facebook posting by the Dutch-based Scramble Magazine that four F-117 Nighthawks were pulled out of retirement and snuck into Syria to fly clandestine missions on behalf of the U.S. in 2017. Giving some credence to the report, which is classified as a rumor by most military pundits, is the increasingly public display of a cadre of up to six stealth fighters that have been photographed and videoed flying over the shadowy Air Force bases in the California desert. It’s widely known that after the plane’s official retirement in 2008, the Air Force has kept more than 50 aircraft in flyable storage in the desert. But although there is no verifiable confirmation that Nighthawks flew combat missions in Syria, the various publications, websites and forums that follow such things are pretty much unanimous that the scenario is plausible.

Among the most detailed assessments is by online journalist Tyler Rogoway at thedrive.com who says the Nighthawk is uniquely qualified to handle covert operations over Syria and who notes those missions might be run by an American agency other than the Air Force. He said more modern platforms don’t have its ability to use laser-guided weapons to hit moving targets (precision GPS munitions on new aircraft can hit a matchbook from 50,000 feet but only if it stays still) and says that’s the most likely use for the 38-year-old design. Rogoway opines that while far-fetched, the reactivation of the F-117 is not only possible but possibly justifiable. “Still, in the end, there is no evidence that the F-117 was sent back into combat in any form or magnitude. Zero,” he wrote. “At the same time, there seems to have been a fairly good reason to do so, at least in small numbers.”