MYSTERY WIRE — The skies of Nevada have spawned some of the most advanced, and most lethal aircraft ever built, including the F-117 Nighthawk, better known as the Stealth fighter. Officially, the F-117 was put into retirement back in 2008. So why do eyewitnesses say they’re still flying out in the desert 11 years later?
When four of the iconic F-117 Nighthawks made their final flight into the Tonopah Test Range in 2008, a small group of military watchdogs was on hand to record the historic, if melancholic moment.
Aviation desert rats were first to hint that a warplane invisible to radar was flying around in the Nevada desert, years before it was ever acknowledged. It was fitting they documented the retirement.
“It’s the end of an era, really,” Joerg Arnu said in 2008. “The Stealth fighter coming home to the Tonopah Test Range and being put in storage.” Arnu is the webmaster for DreamlandResort.com.
“They say they can reactivate them in a few weeks if they need to,” Arnu said.
The plane was designed by the famed Lockheed Skunkworks in the ‘70s, had its maiden flight at Area 51 in 1981, and was operational for 7 years before it was formally unveiled to the public at a 1990 event at Nellis Air Force Base.
A year or so later, the Nighthawks demonstrated their full potential by striking the very first blows in the massive shock and awe campaign against Iraq. After the 2008 retirement, photos surfaced of the fighters stacked inside hangars, seemingly obsolete.
Maybe not. “It’s still flying. We see it flying over Rachel quite frequently,” Joerg Arnu said recently. “The last time I personally saw it was six months ago.”
In fact, in March of 2020 the F-117 was spotted flying over a popular training area on the west side of Death Valley National Park in California. The aviationist website recently reported, Aviation enthusiasts and photographers familiar with the Father Crowley Point/Star Wars Canyon area were skeptical of the claims that aircraft had actually flown down inside the canyon last week, suggesting that the normal flights of aircraft in the region had caused the report to surface. The photographers claim the aircraft were flying at low level in the area, but not actually inside the canyon where they were frequently photographed prior to a deadly July 13, 2019 accident. That accident claimed the life of U.S. Navy Lt. Charles Z. Walker, 33, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 151, the “Vigilantes” based at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, California. Lt. Walker’s Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet struck the side of the canyon wall on July 13, 2019, killing Walker and injuring seven park visitors who were standing at the top of the canyon according to spokesman Patrick Taylor of the National Park Service.
Arnu’s dreamland website chronicles all sorts of secret military tech. His home in Rachel, Nevada, is a stone’s throw from the northern entrance to Area 51, which recently was engulfed by alien-themed partiers who toyed with storming the secret base. The crowds have departed, but the once-secret planes are still flying, Arnu said.
“They fly in bright daylight. They fly right over town at maybe 15,000 feet, make all kinds of noise, and you look up and, uh oh, there they are again, two of them, two of them. They came right out from the barricade, flew over Rachel, did a u-turn and flew right back into the ranges,” Arnu said.
Visitors to Arnu’s website share videos and photos of black projects, so they’ve known for awhile.
Going back into 2019, another site that has documented continued flights of the F-117 is lazygranch.com, which has photos of the planes both on the ground at Area 52 and in the air, dating back at least 5 years. Its webmaster estimates there are four of the planes currently in operation. The website has maps of the Tonopah range and all kinds of other information.
More video proof is online at airshowstuff.com, which has closeup video caught on Feb. 27 over Death Valley.
The War Zone speculated the planes would be “ideal test assets for a wide variety of projects, such as “developing new radars or materials, or testing new sensors.”
Joerg Arnu has similar suspicions. “The only real answer I can come up with is that they are testing subsystems that they mount on these aircraft,” Arnu said.
The fate of at least one Nighthawk is now known. Lockheed released a time-lapse video of an F-117 at Area 52 that was completely stripped of its classified coating then sent to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, where it will be displayed.
On Oct. 27, 2006 a 25-plane formation celebrated the Nighthawk’s 25th anniversary and 250,000 flying hour.
In 2017, Congress voted to dismantle and destroy the remaining F-117s at a pace of four planes per year. That hasn’t happened. So far, only one of the mothballed marvels has been trashed, according to reports.