Military aviation buffs love the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, and for good reason.
It was the first aircraft designed to be virtually invisible to radar, and it wasn’t much easier to spot with the naked eye. The fighter was such a secret that it was in service for six years before the U.S. Air Force admitted its existence.
The airframe was coated in plates lined with radar-absorbing material (RAM) held in place with a special adhesive. Details about the exact composition of the F-117′s RAM remain classified to this day.
Only 64 were built, including five YF-117A prototypes and 59 F-117As. That scarcity means that fans of the Nighthawk truly have to go out of their way just to get a glimpse of one.
Until recent years, there was almost no way to see one up close, short of being part of the ground crew or being lucky enough to be assigned to fly the aircraft.
The closest option was a YF-117A modified for systems testing. That aircraft is on display in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Dubbed Scorpion 2, it is marked as it appeared during tests conducted for Air Force Systems Command between 1981 and 1991. While an impressive sight to take in, it isn’t quite the same as seeing a Nighthawk that flew during operations in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Of course, it is possible to view the F-117 nicknamed Something Wicked (serial number 82-0806), as it is on display at the Museum of Aviation in Belgrade, outside that city’s Nikola Tesla Airport. This plane was shot down over Serbia in March 1999 during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
Where You Can See the F-117
In recent years, though, it has finally become a bit easier to see the Nighthawk. It no longer requires a visit to Serbia. Around a dozen other airframes — including the other three Scorpion test aircraft — are now either on display at museums in the U.S. or are being restored.
Soon, visitors to the Hill Aerospace Museum near Ogden, Utah, will have a chance to see the F-117 nicknamed Midnight Rider (serial number 82-0799). The aircraft arrived at the museum in August 2020 and is being prepared for display.
During its service with the U.S. Air Force, Midnight Rider flew as part of the 450th Tactical Group and was based out of Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. Later, it was based out of Holloman AFB in New Mexico as part of the 49th Fighter Wing, the Air Force Times reported.
Though it arrived with wings and tail removed, and it lacked both engines, it did have a complete cockpit and full tail assembly. It will now sit next to an SR-71C Blackbird – a fitting companion for the first true stealth aircraft.
Midnight Rider will become the latest Nighthawk to go on display after Black Devil (serial number 85-0833) was unveiled last year at the Palm Springs Air Museum. That aircraft, which served as the 49th Wing commander’s “personal mount,” logged some 5,140 flight hours during its U.S. Air Force career. It took part in numerous combat operations, including over Iraq during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.