Following reports of F-117(s) spotted flying in Nevada and Eastern California last week, Dutch aviation magazine “Scramble” is now reporting that four of the retired stealth aircraft were actually conducting classified air strikes over Syria as recently as 2017.
Scramble is a magazine published by an aviation society of the same name and dates back to 1979, when it was established by a group of “aviation-enthusiasts” tracking aircraft activity at the Amsterdam-Schiphol airport. It is widely seen as a reputable aviation news outlet, earning the respect of noted aviation journalist David Cenciotti and his popular website, “The Aviationist,” who may have been the first to pick up on Scramble’s new claims.
Back in 2017, and not publiced by any other source so far, Scramble received very reliable information that at least four F-117s were deployed to the Middle East as an operational need emerged for the USAF to resurrect the stealth F-117 for special purposes. One of the deployed aircraft was involved in an in-flight emergency and landed far away from its temporary home base that was likely located in Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Qatar.
During this extremely covert deployment the four Nighthawks flew missions over Syria and Iraq with Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs).
If this account is accurate, it poses a number of significant questions. The F-117 Nighthawk was America’s first foray into operational stealth aircraft. Designed and built by Lockheed, the F-117 first took to the sky in 1981 and served in a classified capacity for years before finally being acknowledged by the U.S. government in 1988. It was retired from service twenty years later where it entered into “flyable storage,” before being officially retired completely (according to Uncle Sam in 2017). However, sightings of at least one F-117 playing cat and mouse with a pair of F-16s last week make it clear that the Air Force is keeping at least some of these stealth aircraft in good flying shape.
That suggests that it wouldn’t be impossible to deploy four or more of these bombers (despite their “F” prefix) in 2017, despite being 9 years past retirement… but it doesn’t shed much light on why.
The F-22 Raptor, built by Lockheed Martin and boasting superior stealth and performance as compared to the older Nighthawk, has deployed to Syria and could feasibly fill just about any combat role an F-117 could. This story plays out a bit like the opening sequence of the movie “Commando,” with the F-117 playing the role of Schwarzenegger’s retired Colonel John Matrix. It took kidnapping Matrix’s daughter to pull him out of retirement in the film… so what did it take to put America’s first stealth platform back in the fight?
Of course, that’s assuming the story is true. While Scramble may be a reputable outlet, the information they received may not have been accurate. Until more information surfaces, it may be best to take these reports with a grain of salt.
Feature photo courtesy of WikiMedia Commons