Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk Desktop Model Aircraft
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The F-117 was born after combat experience in the Vietnam War when increasingly sophisticated Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) downed heavy bomber flights.
In 1964, Pyotr Ya. Ufimtsev, a Soviet/Russian mathematician, published a seminal paper, "Method of Edge Waves in the Physical Theory of Diffraction", in the Journal of the Moscow Institute for Radio Engineering, in which he showed that the strength of a radar return is related to the edge configuration of an object, not its size.Ufimtsev was extending theoretical work published by the German physicist Arnold Sommerfeld. Ufimtsev demonstrated that he could calculate the radar cross-section across a wing's surface and along its edge. The obvious conclusion was that even a large airplane could be made stealthy by exploiting this principle. However, the airplane's design would make it aerodynamically unstable, and the state of computer technology in the early 1960s could not provide the kinds of flight computers which allow aircraft such as the F-117, and B-2 Spirit to stay airborne. However, by the 1970s, when a Lockheed analyst reviewing foreign literature found Ufimtsev's paper, computers and software had advanced significantly, and the stage was set for the development of a stealthy airplane.
The F-117 was a black project, an ultra-secret program for much of its life, until the late 1980s. The project began in 1975 with a model called the "Hopeless Diamond" (a wordplay on the Hope Diamond due to its appearance). In 1977 Lockheed produced two 60% scale models under the Have Blue contract. The Have Blue program was a stealth technology demonstrator that lasted from 1976 to 1979. The success of Have Blue led the Air Force to create the Senior Trend program which developed the F-117.
The decision to produce the F-117A was made on 1 November 1978, and a contract awarded to Lockheed Advanced Development Projects, popularly known as the Skunk Works, in Burbank, California. The program was led by Ben Rich. Rich called on Bill Schroeder, a Lockheed mathematician, and Denys Overholser, a computer scientist, to exploit Ufimtsev's work. They designed a computer program called Echo, which made it possible to design an airplane with flat panels, called facets, which were arranged so as to scatter over 99% of a radar's signal energy "painting" the airplane.
The F-117 first flew in June 1981, only 31 months after the full-scale development decision. The first production F-117A was delivered in 1982, operational capability was achieved in October 1983. The Air Force denied the existence of the aircraft until 1988, when a grainy photograph was released to the public. In April 1990 two were flown into Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, arriving during daylight and visible to a crowd of tens of thousands. Five Full Scale Development (FSD) aircraft built and were designated "YF-117A". A total of 59 production F-117s were delivered through July 1990.
As the Air Force has stated, "Streamlined management by Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, combined breakthrough stealth technology with concurrent development and production to rapidly field the aircraft... The F-117A program demonstrates that a stealth aircraft can be designed for reliability and maintainability." The aircraft maintenance statistics are comparable to other tactical fighters of similar complexity. Logistically supported by Sacramento Air Logistics Center, McClellan AFB, California, the F-117A was kept at the forefront of technology through a planned weapon system improvement program located at USAF Plant 42 at Palmdale, California.
Several of the F-117s were painted with a gray camouflage pattern in an experiment to determine the effectiveness of the F-117's stealth during daylight conditions. 2004 and 2005 saw several mid-life improvement programs implemented on the F-117, including an avionics upgrade.