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The World’s First Stealth Fighter – F-117 Nighthawk

The Early History Of The F-117 And How It Was Practically “Invisible”
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum presents the F-117 Nighthawk
The F-117 Nighthawk at a military exhibit

The F-117 Nighthawk, known for its black coating and geometrical shape, is the first to use a radar absorbing material (RAM) and the “faceting” technique, both of which effectively made it invisible to radar. Renowned as the “Stealth Fighter”, the F-117 was designed to sneak past strongly defended enemy territory and destroy targets of high value.

The History of the F-117

The first F-117 prototype was created in 1975 by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works with the “Hopeless Diamond” design. The unique design used a technique called “faceting”, where a plane’s usually smooth plane’s surface is converted into trapezoids and triangles. The geometric shape scatters radar waves away from the aircraft in awkward angles, meaning few radar waves reach back to the radar. But, faceting made a plane incredibly unstable when maneuvering.

The Near Blue design improved on the previous Hopeless Diamond and expanded the wings, making it more maneuverable. Next, the final prototype, the F-117A, was created and first flown in 1981, after multiple rigorous tests.

The F-117 project was highly secretive and was revealed in 1988, where it was then used in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The F-117 proved to be incredibly useful throughout the conflict, seeing an 80% success rate and no damage or losses in actual combat.

Design Specifications

The F-117 is primarily made of aluminum. Titanium is used for engine and exhaust ports. The F-117 has an RCS (radar cross-section, or how visible the aircraft is on radar) of 10cm² – 100cm², compared F-35’s RCS of about 15cm². It uses a “V” shaped tail which moves the whole wing surface, controlling the left and right movement of the plane, or the yaw.

The F-117 is designed for one pilot and has a max speed of 684 miles per hour, which is about 90% of a full Mach. One Mach is one times the speed of sound. The stealth fighter has a max height of about 8.5 miles (13.7 kilometers) above sea level and has an internal weapons compartment which can carry up to 5,000 pounds (2268 kilograms) of missiles, bombs, and other weapons.

When identifying targets and navigation, the F-117 uses an FLIR (forward-looking infrared) and a DLIR (downward-looking infrared), which also has a laser to mark prey. Infrared sights are used to capture radiation not visible to humans. The radiation can identify objects in high quality. It does not use radar to maintain stealth.

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