On Oct. 3, 2020, the Palm Springs Air Museum (PSAM), in Palm Springs, California, welcomed the F-117A #833 with a military retirement ceremony. Interestingly, unlike the Nighthawk destined to the Hill Aerospace Museum, that was partly disassembled, the Stealth Jet for PSAM entered the ramp from the airport to the Museum in style, towed by a ground vehicle and was greeted by a flyby salute from two pivotal Lockheed aircraft (the WWII vintage P-38 Lightning and a first-generation T-33 Shooting Star jet) along with a water arch tribute and a final radio call from the control tower that recognized its 20-year service in the U.S. Air Force.
The F-117A #85-0833 made its first flight on Febr. 19, 1988. It flew 30 combat missions with the 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of its deployment base at King Khalid International Airport, Saudi Arabia, from Aug. 19, 1990, to Apr. 1, 1991, during Operation Desert Storm; and 45 mission with the 8th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, deployed to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in 1999, during Operation Allied Force in the Balkans. Nicknamed “Black Devil”, the aircraft was officially retired on Apr. 11, 2008, after logging 5,140 Flight Hours.
The aircraft was prepared for its transfer to the PSAM by the DeMil Team at Tonopah Nevada and after delivery, it went into restoration for many months before its exhibition at the museum. Although the aircraft won’t be in regular display until Spring 2021, PSAM has already launched a series of 6 limited events for the public to view the F-117 aircraft up close and personal with an experienced interpreter as a guide.
Each experience lasts 90 minutes and will feature a different Skunk Works Expert or F-117 pilot to interpret the airplane, and will include a different Limited Edition T-Shirt for each event, and a chance to look inside the cockpit for each session. There will also be plenty of photo opportunities!
The F-117 is not on regular display, these events are the only way to view the aircraft until complete restoration is complete in Spring 2021. Each event is limited to 117 attendees.
It’s unknown whether the aircraft just delivered to the PSAM is one of the examples which have continued to fly at Tonopah Test Range (TTR) after the retirement from active service in 2008.
As explained in a detailed story here at The Aviationist, back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force admitted that the Nighthawk was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at TTR which meant that the type is had to be maintained until called into active service. Desert conditions of Nevada are perfect for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion), hence the reason to operate the enigmatic aircraft from TTR.
In July 2016, we published a video showing two F-117s flying together, filmed from the distant hills east of Tonopah Test Range: in examining the photos some readers noticed that when the two F-117’s were lined up on the runway, only one of them had what looked like a comms antenna extended on the dorsal spine. The other Nighthawk behind him did not have that. A new antenna? For doing what? A remotely controlled F-117? Hard to say because of the quality of the shot.
Then, in 2017, the U.S. Air Force announced the decision to retire the fleet permanently, once and for all, in accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, that called the Air Force to remove four F-117s every year to fully divest them.
While some of first aircraft, partly disassembled were spotted as they were transferred from TTR to museums around the U.S., sightings of F-117s flying over Nevada and California have continued. We have reported them in 2018, in 2019 and also 2020. The appearance of the “Wobblin’ Goblin” also fuelled some rumors according to those the aircraft was re-introduced to combat in Syria and Iraq in 2017, although these claims have never been substantiated.
By the way, the latest sighting of an F-117 dates back to last month, when satellite images exposed a Nighthawk on the ground at TTR during some unknown (photo?) activity.