F-117 On The Move – Michigan’s Air Zoo Adds a Nighthawk!

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Michigan’s fabulous Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum, known to many of us simply as the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, has been striving to achieve a rare feat in successfully negotiating the loan of a Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk from the U.S. Air Force. Although the Air Force officially retired the remaining examples of their 59 F-117As during 2008, almost all of them went into long-term, Type 1000 storage within their original shelters at Tonopah Air Force Base in Nevada. These ‘Stealth Fighters’, which gained fame for their remarkable achievements in 1991 during the first Gulf War, were still a strategic asset, even in retirement, and likely deemed too sensitive for public museums. What we didn’t know, for some time, was that the U.S. Military had secretly maintained a handful of the breed in operational condition, likely as test vehicles. There have been a number of confirmed F-117 sightings since the first official retirement more than a decade ago, the most recent being in May, 2020. However, until very recently, the only Nighthawks on public display anywhere were the four extant F-117 prototypes at military or manufacturing facilities. That all changed in the past year, however, with five museums receiving a formerly operational F-117A on loan. The first of these was the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, who dedicated their pedestal-mounted F-117A on December 7th, 2019, and the Air Zoo is the latest; F-117A 85-0817 Shaba arrived disassembled at the Air Zoo’s facility in Portage, Michigan this week! Their press release continues as follows…

The Air Zoo is proud to announce the arrival of their newest aircraft. Over the last eight days, Air Zoo President & CEO, Troy Thrash, along with a crew of dedicated transportation specialists, embarked upon a journey of 1,940 miles to bring the aerospace and science center’s new aircraft home to the Air Zoo, located in Portage, MI. This new plane is a stealth fighter, a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, Tail #817, and nicknamed Shaba.

Troy Thrash, Air Zoo President & CEO went to Tonopah to help prepare the airplane for the journey back to Michigan.

“I really can’t believe the time has finally come, to sign for and start this exciting journey back to Southwest Michigan, with the first operational Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk released for public display east of the Rockies,” states Air Zoo President & CEO, Troy Thrash as he prepped for the trip to Tonopah, Nevada on November 30th. “This is a monumental event for not only the Air Zoo Family, but for everyone in Southwest Michigan, and this positive news could not have come at a better time.”

Last year, the Air Zoo was notified that they would be the proud recipient of one of the first Lockheed F-117 Nighthawks released for public display! This plane represents the U.S. Air Force’s first active military stealth aircraft, and the Air Zoo team could not be more excited to have been chosen for this honor. Once received, the week of December 7th, the Air Zoo is expected to be the first non-governmental facility in the country – and the only museum in the state of Michigan – to publicly display an F-117.

The highly decorated Shaba (tail number 817) was transported on two trucks across the country. The truck carrying the wings and tail fins made excellent time and arrived in Kalamazoo late Saturday night. The precious cargo was unloaded this morning at the Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Center.  The Air Zoo team eagerly anticipates the arrival of the fuselage this Wednesday afternoon, and plans to off-load it on Thursday, December 10th. They will work with a team from the Tonopah Test Range to reunite Shaba’s main components for display on the Flight Discovery Center’s exhibit floor on Thursday and Friday the 10th and 11th. The Air Zoo’s Restoration Team will work to recreate the aircraft’s leading edges and paint her for display at the Flight Innovation Center near the end of 2021. While under restorative care, Shaba will be available for guests to see up close and personal.

Those interested in learning more about project “Get Shaba” can connect with the Air Zoo on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or on their dedicated Facebook Group page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/getshaba


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