MYSTERY WIRE — The United States Air Force retired its fleet of F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter jets 13 years ago, but has recently appeared to come out of retirement. Most recently two of the mysterious jets were seen flying into the restricted airspace where Area 51 is located in the Nevada desert.
In March of 2020, a Nighthawk was spotted flying near Death Valley through Rainbow Canyon, better known now as Star Wars Canyon. Photographers can take incredible pictures of military jets flying below Father Crowley Vist Point or Overlook when the pilots use the canyon as a flight path during training.
But this past Tuesday aviation enthusiast and webmaster of the Area 51 themed site dreamlandresort.com Joerg Arnu was buzzed by two Nighthawks flying at speed heading toward the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), home to the best known secret air base known as Area 51 and the just as secretive Tonopah Test Range (TTR).
Arnu said he was on top of a hill at what’s known as Coyote Pass. This pass is located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas along State Route 375, better known as the ET Highway. Coming from Las Vegas the ET Highway takes you to the tiny community of Rachel, home of the Little A’Le’Inn.
Arnu believes these repurposed Nighthawks are taking part in the Nellis Air Force Base Red Flag training exercises and are part of the aggressor squadron. This is a group of jets that take on the role of the enemy in live-action training missions.
The F-117’s Arnu saw are believed to be based at the Tonapah base, Arnu pointed out the “TR” on the tail of the repainted Nighthawks signifying that as the home base.
When I was up at Coyote Summit on Tuesday … it is the best spot for watching area wargames, the Red Flag, because the blue team comes right through there. And from the other side, sometimes the red team pushes against it. So over time, sometimes you see really realistic air-to-air combat going on, you’ll see fighter jets coming through low from one side from the other side. And it’s pretty spectacular for people like me that like to photograph planes. And of course, we’re always looking for the exotic ones. So I went there on Tuesday. Pretty much looking for the push from the blue team to start, I’m looking in a easterly direction, because I know that’s where the blue team is coming from, pretty much on the north end of Tickaboo Valley. And as I’m looking over there at this gap that I know they will be coming through when they start their push, all of a sudden, I see this dark shadow out of a corner of my eye off to my left, and I look over and there’s this big F-117 right next me. I mean, he was maybe 500 feet away from me, low, right on the deck going right through the pass in an easterly direction. So he was part of the red team. And I think he was just kind of scoping out the area. Of course I got caught by surprise. By the time I had my camera ready he was long gone. I got a shot off his wingman. But, you know, his wingman was a little bit over to the side. So I sat there and I figured ‘Okay, they came through once, maybe they will come again.’ And sure enough, I saw them go back at high altitude and maybe five minutes later, here they come again. This time I’m prepared. I’m looking towards the Rachel area towards the west. And here they come right on the deck. And I got a pretty good shots of the F-117 approaching and one shot pretty much looking right at the plane almost at eye level. And I got a shot of the pilot actually looking down on me. I think I think he banked a little bit to actually get closer to me. He had to see me I mean I was pretty exposed there on the hill. Standing right next to my truck and shooting away.Joerg Arnu
While Arnu believes the Nighthawks are taking part in the current Red Flag exercises, he speculated the jets might have come out retirement for another reason, a distraction to take attention away from a bigger secret project at the Tonopah base.
They may also be distracting from what’s really flying out of Tonopah. There has been a lot of money put into Tonopah Test Range in the last couple of years. The construction is almost non stop for the last year and a half. They are putting a lot of money into upgrading the runway, both the surface of the runway but also the electronics associated with the runway such as nav. aids and such. And another thing you can see, the economy of the town of Tonopah largely depends on work at TTR. And when I go to Tonopah, these days, I can see new stores opening, new businesses opening, there’s money their all of a sudden. All this together leads me to believe that there’s a big project that is still classified going on a TTR. And that these F-117’s, they are distracting from what else is going on the TTR.Joerg Arnu
Below: Photographs of Tonopah Test Range Airport taken in early 2020 by a private pilot.
One of the jets Arnu speculates might also be involved in training exercises involving the F-117 Nighthawks is the top secret new B-21 Raider stealth bomber. This bomber has never been photographed. The military and builder Northrop-Grumman have only released artist renderings of the plane.
Arnu said he thinks the Air Force might be using Area 51 to test the B-21 at night.
In 2019, Air Force Magazine published an article about the building of the B-21 at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, Calif., facility which is near Edwards Air Force Base.