Two Black Jets spotted training on the Sidewinder low level training route.
While officially retired in 2008, the F-117 Nighthawk have continued to fly, unofficially, from Tonopah Test Range (TTR) airfield in Nevada. As explained in a detailed story, back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force admitted that the Nighthawk was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at TTR which meant that the type is had to be maintained until called into active service. Desert conditions of Nevada are perfect for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion), hence the reason to operate the enigmatic aircraft from TTR.
In July 2016, we published a video showing two F-117s flying together, filmed from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range, then, in 2017, the U.S. Air Force announced the decision to retire the fleet permanently, once and for all. In fact, “in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, passed Dec. 23, 2017 the Air Force said it would remove four F-117s every year to fully divest them. However, the aircraft continued to be spotted, even more than it had happened until then, with the Nighthawks also deploying to several U.S. bases to carry out Dissimilar Air Combat Training with other U.S. types. Until 2021, when the U.S. Air Force published the first official images of the type still involved in flight operations on the DVIDS (Defense Visual Information Distribution Service) network.
Then, in September 2022 the Air Force Test Center published a Request For Information (RFI) about a possible 10-year contract for maintenance and logistics support services for the F-117A fleet at the TTR airfield, acknowledging that the U.S. Air Force is willing to keep the aircraft flying at least until 2034.
Anyway, it’s no longer a secret that 15 years after being officially retired, the F-117s are being actively used not only for training purposes as adversary aircraft and cruise missile surrogate, but also for research, development, test and evaluation. As a consequence, they continue to be spotted as they fly their missions across the U.S., as happened on Friday Apr. 21, 2023, when aviation photographer Alex filmed two Nighthawks flying low level over the Eastern Sierras on the famous Sidewinder low level route.
“I believe this is the lowest they have been observed flying along the low level route,” Alex told us in a message. “I was blown away when I heard them call on the radio, and even more amazed to watch them fly past.”
Take a look by yourself at the incredible footage Alex posted on Instagram:
It is not known, how many Nighthawks are still airworthy. As of January 2023, of the 59 F-117s built, approximately 45 F-117s were in the inventory, with more than 10 already approved for transfer to museums. The current disposal rate is only between two and three jets per year, instead of four per year announced in 2017.