F-117As To Be Mothballed In Nevada Desert
Workers at the Lockheed Martin plant in Palmdale, CA played host
to some very special visitors Tuesday -- four of the last F-117A
Nighthawk "stealth" fighters still flying, though the advanced
planes won't be taking flight much longer.
The four aircraft took off from Holloman Air Force Base last
weekend, the last Nighthawks to fly from that southern New Mexico
facility. Holloman is home to the 49th Fighter Wing, which flew the
F-117A, and recently received their first F-22 Raptor fighters...
which are quite stealthy in their own right.
Tuesday's ceremony in Palmdale paid homage to Lockheed's "Skunk
Works" unit that developed the aircraft, reports The Los Angeles
"I read it's the most recognized aircraft on the face of the
Earth," Andy McElhaney, a 12-year Lockheed worker, told the paper.
"Just to see it, to come in the hangar in the morning (without) the
lights on, it was the most awesome thing to look at."
As ANN reported last month,
the Air Force began to gradually retire its remaining 52-plane
fleet -- out of 59 delivered to the Air Force between August 1982
and July 1990 -- in December 2006. The first Nighthawks left
Holloman in March 2007.
The aircraft will be mothballed at Nevada's Tonopah Test Range,
where the first Nighthawk flew in June 1981. The planes will be
stored in protective hangars, their distinctive wings and V-tails
removed. In theory, at least some of the planes could be recalled
if needed... though as modern fighter aircraft like the Raptor gain
in numbers, that possibility will likely be increasingly
On Tuesday, hundreds of Lockheed workers and invited guests bid
farewell to the planes in Palmdale. Those who participated in
building the Nighthawks signed the planes' bomb bay doors, as is
tradition when aircraft are retired.
"It's a bittersweet moment, saying goodbye to a remarkable
aircraft," Cheryl O'Leary, Lockheed vice president and site general
manager, told the crowd. "We can all be proud of the groundbreaking
legacy of the stealth fighter. We did own the night."
Nighthawk pilot Tom Morgenfeld, 64, said his time at the
controls was "the most rewarding thing I've ever done."
Morgenfeld was the fourth person to fly the F-117A, and would
only say he made his first flight before Thanksgiving 1981. "I'm
kind of sorry to see it go," he added. "It was nice to be part of
an airplane that had a fairly important part in history."