The Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Georgia has just received a Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk which, following a period of refurbishment, will go on display sometime next year.
Although the U.S. Air Force ‘officially’ retired the remaining examples of their 59 F-117As during 2008, almost all of those airframes 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 during the first Gulf War in 1991, were still a strategic asset, even in retirement, and likely deemed too sensitive for public museums at the time. What we didn’t know, for some while, was that the Air Force 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 that first official retirement more than a decade ago. However, until recently, the only Nighthawks on public display anywhere were the four extant F-117 prototypes at military or manufacturing facilities. That began to change in late 2019, however, with several museums receiving a formerly operational F-117A on loan.
In November 2019, Lockheed Nighthawk F-117A 82-0803 went on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. This airframe reportedly flew 78 combat missions, more than any other examples of the breed. In October 2020, the Palm Springs Air Museum received F-117A 85-0833 Black Devil which, following a period of restoration, went on display during April 2022 in a specially designed exhibit at their new Jim Houston Pavilion. In December 2020, the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum welcomed F-117 Nighthawk 85-0817 Shaba to their facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In early 2021, Castle Air Museum had the good fortune to receive confirmation that they too would receive a Nighthawk; F-117A 85-0813 Toxic Avenger arrived in July 2022, and it’s restoration is currently well-advanced. And then in March 2021, the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, Nebraska announced the assignment of F-117A 85-0831, which is reportedly the highest-time example in the fleet (2,720.7 flight hours).
The latest organization to receive a Nighthawk is the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Georgia., on display last Thursday (May 18th, 2023). As reported by Austin Kuback, F-117A 81-10794 Delta Dawn made the journey from Tonopah, Nevada within the belly of a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, arriving on May 18th.
Given the aircraft’s relatively small size, museum personnel towed the aircraft across the base to the museum on its own landing gear, as this was deemed a safer and simpler option than transporting it down Highway 247 in front of the base. The aircraft was placed on temporary outdoor display at the museum’s amphitheater in front of Hangar Two (the Century of Flight building), but will soon move to a maintenance area at the back of the museum’s property. From there, the aircraft will be repainted and fitted with replica pieces to replace parts of the aircraft’s wing leading edges (removed prior to acquisition). The aircraft’s original paint (and wing leading edges) were removed prior to its arrival in Georgia to comply with national security protocols regarding stealth technology. According to Kuback, museum personnel expect that the aircraft’s refurbishment will take roughly a year to complete, following which it will go on display within Hangar Two.
Austin Kuback will monitor the restoration of this Nighthawk for Vintage Aviation News, so we hope to provide regular progress reports as they arrive. In related news, the Museum of Aviation anticipates the arrival of a Boeing E-8C Joint STARS electronic surveillance and targeting aircraft for display sometime in June.