Could the F-117 Nighthawk Make a ‘Stealth’ Comeback?

    Dave Majumdar

    Security,

    Developed in the 1970s and declared operational in complete secrecy in 1983, the F-117 ushered in a new era that would enable the United States to dominate warfare for decades to come.

    The F-117 first flew in 1981 and eventually entered service in 1983. Lockheed was able to develop an operational aircraft quickly as the company built the jet out of existing components already in use on other planes. The fly-by-wire controls came from the F-16 while the engines were non-afterburning versions of the F/A-18A’s General Electric F404 turbofans. Additionally, unlike later stealth aircraft, the F-117 was constructed using conventional aerospace aluminum—which made building the jet easier. Lockheed ultimately built a total of fifty-nine F-117As and five YF-117As developmental prototypes.

    The Lockheed Martin F-117 Nighthawk is a legendary plane. That aircraft was retired in 2008, but would the F-117 still be useful today?

    The answer is that against most mid-range threats like Iran, absolutely. But against higher-end threats like Russia or China, not so much. Technology has advanced since engineers first dreamed up the F-117 “stealth fighter” concept.

    Developed in the 1970s and declared operational in complete secrecy in 1983, the F-117 ushered in a new era that would enable the United States to dominate warfare for decades to come. Ironically, the equations that ultimately enabled the United States to develop the Nighthawk have their origins in the Soviet Union with a paper titled Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction. An obscure Russian scientist by the name of Pyotr Yakovlevich Ufimtsev wrote the paper in 1962. While the Soviet Union more or less dismissed Ufimtsev’s work as being wildly impractical, Lockheed Skunk Works engineer Denys Overholser saw potential in the Russian physicist’s equations.

    Recommended: Air War: Stealth F-22 Raptor vs. F-14 Tomcat (That Iran Still Flies)

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