HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Lockheed F-117A is possibly the rarest Air Force aircraft with only 64 ever produced and the Hill Aero- space Museum recently became the new home of one.
Tail number 799, nicknamed Midnight Rider, made its way from the Nevada desert where it was kept in flyable storage at the Tonopah Test Range and arrived at the museum Aug 5.
Hill’s F-117 first flew in 1983 and had a total of 54 combat sorties from Desert Storm, Allied Force, and Iraqi Freedom. This airframe was also the Initial Operating Capability airframe for the 4450th Tactical Group.
“It is a unique aircraft that highlights the remarkable evolution of military flight,” said Aaron Clark, Hill Aerospace Museum director. “It’s the world’s first operational aircraft designed to exploit low observable stealth technology, so you could say this was one of many instances where the Air Force crossed into the realm of science fiction when released.”
The F-117A was developed in response to an Air Force request for an aircraft capable of attacking high value targets without being detected by enemy radar. By the 1970s, new materials and techniques allowed engineers to design an aircraft with radar-evading or stealth qualities. The result was the F-117A, the world’s first operation- al stealth aircraft.
Clark said the F-117 has been on the Hill museum’s wish list for a long time and it took the assistance of several entities to make the highly sought-after collection addition a reality.
“All participating parties have been incredible throughout this acquisition journey," he said. “First, we worked with the incredible teams at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force and Tonopah, who have been supportive and patient during the whole process. We also worked closely with a private transport company, Departments of Transportation, Nevada Highway Patrol, Utah Highway Patrol, and several base entities.”
When the plane arrived at the museum, members of the 309th Aircraft Maintenance Group, long-time supporters of this institution, assisted with offloading the fuselage.
“Getting the aircraft took a team, and everyone who played a part in this effort has been fantastic,” Clark said. “Now inside the museum, this airframe aligns with the modern mission storyline and is located near the F-16, A-10, F-15 and our new Predator drone.”
Hill AFB has a mission tie with the F-117. In December 1998, the Ogden Air Logistics Center assumed the responsibility of the F-117 battle damage repair. Their job was to go downrange and fix the F-117 on location.
“People from the local area, who had connection to the F-117 program, want to come out and help,” Clark said. “Many people are excited about this aircraft and it will take a team of folks to get it restored, but that gets me excited because this is the community’s museum. Any chance we have to get the community, local and global, involved and feel connected with the collection is awesome.”
The restoration will be different than most, because it will be live for visitors. Guests will see the work in progress as the stealth fighter returns to its original appearance in the museum’s second gallery. The project is expected to be complete in 12 to 18 months.
Hill will be one of the few locations to display an F-117. Others currently include the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Edwards AFB Flight Test Museum and the Ronald Reagan Library.
“It may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to see one of these airframes,” Clark said. “This is just one of the many reasons why it’s so exciting to have one of these rare birds.”