Stripped F-117 Nighthawk Arrives At Hill Aerospace Museum Direct From Tonopah

The USAF continues to send a handful of F-117s to museums while a few of the stealth jets continue to operate under secretive circumstances.

Hill Aerospace Museum

While the U.S. Air Force still has some F-117A Nighthawks actively involved in flying operations, others are being removed from storage and transported for display at a select number of museums. This stripped-down F-117A was delivered to the Hill Aerospace Museum at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, yesterday. 

The fuselage of the aircraft arrived by truck, direct from Tonopah Test Range Airport (TTR) in Nevada. Staff from Hill AFB, which is adjacent to the museum, assisted in moving it from the truck and into the museum. The aircraft arrived having been stripped of its trademark black Radar Absorbent Material (RAM). The demilitarization process for the Nighthawk is extremely complex, and it is detailed in this previous War Zone feature. The USAF has established a special facility to assist in the demilitarization of the F-117s at Tonopah.

Although the F-117s were officially retired over a decade ago, some remain flying under intriguing circumstances. The War Zone has exclusively detailed how the USAF’s plans to slowly dispose of the roughly 50 remaining aircraft at a rate of around four per year.

Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum

The museum staff at Hill AFB will now re-attach aircraft 82-0799’s wings, rear stabilizers, and other parts of the aircraft before it is repainted and put on display at the museum’s Lindquist Stewart Gallery. Some of these parts will be totally fabricated to look like the real thing as their structures are still highly classified and they cannot be kept within reach of the public. This particular aircraft flew some 21 missions during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. 

The airframe appeared to have been delivered without its wings or tails and in an uncovered state, which is different than how we have seen F-117s transported in the past. This aircraft could be the same one the Department of Defense listed on its internal surplus exchange last March.

Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum
Hill Aerospace Museum

Another F-117 is shortly due to go on display at the Palm Springs Air Museum for its new Houston Pavilion, along with The Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Museum, in Michigan, which says it will be the first non-government museum to exhibit the aircraft.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, in Dayton Ohio, is due to receive an F-117A to complement YF-117A serial 79-10781 that is currently on display. F-117A serial 82-0803 is now loaned to the Reagan Presidential Foundation and on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. This particular Nighthawk was actually demilitarized at the Air Force Plant 42 at Palmdale, California, rather than at Tonopah. The preparation of the aircraft for display can be seen here.

The USAF has earmarked a dozen F-117s for loan to museums for public display. With the exception of the remains of Vega 31 in Serbia, the few other Nighthawks currently on display are pre-production YF-117s.

All told, the USAF looks to be moving fast to place the 12 F-117s set aside for display around the country, while a handful of others remain active flying missions from TTR. The rest of the airframes still being stored at the remote airbase are set to slowly be destroyed over the coming decade. 

Contact the author: jamie@thedrive.com