I-Team: F-117 Nighthawks still being spotted in the skies years after retirement

Area 51

RACHEL, Nev. (KLAS) — 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, eleven years later? 

The I-Team’s George Knapp investigated the sightings. You can see his report in the video above.

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, the stealth fighter coming home to the tonopah Test Range and being put in storage,” said DreamlandResort.com webmaster Joerg Arnu back in 2008. “They say they can reactivate them in a few weeks if they need to.”

The plane was designed by the famed Lockheed Skunkworks in the seventies, 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.

But maybe not.

“It’s still flying. We see it flying over Rachel quite frequently,” Arnu said in a recent interview. “The last time I personally saw it was six months ago.”

Aviation watcher Joerg Arnu’s 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 says.

“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,” Arnu said. “They came right out from the barricade, flew over Rachel, did a U-turn and flew right back into the ranges.”

Visitors to Arnu’s website share videos and photos of “Black Projects,” so they’ve known for a while.

Another site that has documented continued flights of the f-117 is “Lazy G Ranch,” 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.

An online publication — “The War Zone” — speculates 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.”

The fate of at least one Nighthawk is now known. Lockheed recently 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 where it will be displayed.

In 2017, Congress voted to dismantle and destroy the remaining F-117’s 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. 

One prominent watchdog, “Aviation Intell,” is pretty sure a next-generation secret craft is already hangared at Area 52.

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