The long-since retired F-117 Nighthawk has been spotted in the skies once again–this time over the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.
On April 22, 2008, the United States Air Force officially moved its fleet of F-117 Nighthawks (often colloquially referred to as the “Stealth Fighter” despite being a bomber) into retirement. The aircraft was the first of its kind, ushering in a new era of military aviation that focused on stealth, rather than blistering speeds and the thin air of high altitudes, but time has its way of catching up with military tech.
Since then, the United States has moved on to fielding even more advanced stealth aircraft like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the forthcoming B-21 Raider. Other nations, however, are still working to catch up in the stealth department, with China now fielding the Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter based on stolen plans for the F-22 Raptor, and Russia putting the Sukhoi Su-57 into serial production despite there being some serious questions about its supposed stealth capabilities. In a very real way, the F-117 Nighthawk is old tech to the U.S. Air Force, but still has significant value in a world woefully lacking in sneaky jets.
And the F-117 Nighthawk’s distinction as the world’s first operational stealth aircraft is probably why eagle-eyed observers in America’s South West have continued to spot the angular aircraft flying in recent years, despite the fleet being put into what is essentially “flyable storage.” When the Pentagon decided to retire its F-117 fleet in 2008, they knew that stealth aircraft are still extremely valuable assets, so they kept them in close-to-working order in storage in the event a conflict of such a scale arose that the F-117 would be needed once again. In recent years, it’s been surmised that the F-117s flying over Nevada and Southern California are likely playing a role in the testing of new targeting pods–as they are often accompanied by fourth generation fighters (non-stealth jets) that seem to be hunting them.
Tyler Rogoway and his team at The Warzone have been keeping an eye on F-117 sightings in the South West for years, but this most recent sighting is awfully unusual. According to multiple witnesses and some images surfacing on social media, F-117s were spotted not over the desolate expanse of Area 51 and similar clandestine air strips, but instead they were seen flying in broad daylight directly over the metropolis that is Los Angeles. The Warzone has images captured of the event, so you won’t be disappointed by clicking on that link.
Two Nighthawks were spotted flying along side a tanker aircraft as they crossed over Los Angeles and flew out to sea to an area of the Pacific that is commonly used by aircraft carrier strike groups to prepare for deployment.
While the U.S. Air Force has not released any statement regarding the use of these F-117s, this latest sighting is in keeping with the theory that the military is using them as “aggressor” aircraft, or planes used in mock combat against America’s military aviators for training and equipment testing.
There have been legends about F-117s returning to the fight in Top Secret missions, and some have even been covered in reputable outlets, but to date, there is no evidence to suggest that the legendary Nighthawk has returned operational service in any way since its retirement in 2008.
But then again, the very premise of this aircraft is built on secrecy… so who knows.