Image: F117 Stealth Figther Lands At Aviano Air Base
A U.S. Air Force F-117 Stealth figthter lands at NATO's Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, in February. The single-seat aircraft can carry two, 2000-pound laser-guided bombs.

The F-117 Nighthawk is the world’s first radar-evading aircraft designed with cutting-edge stealth technology, allowing planes to fly at low altitudes without being detected. It can penetrate high-threat airspace and target the enemy with laser-guided weapons.

The spiky, dart-shaped F-117A is called a “fighter,” but in reality would never engage in aerial dogfights. The plane usually is used as a light bomber, carrying just two, 2000-pound laser-guided bombs.

It is a relatively small, single-seat aircraft typically used for precision attacks against difficult targets, especially early on in an air campaign. This makes it ideal for a role in the early moments of any campaign, along with its larger cousin, the B-2 Spirit, according to military analyst Bruce Unger of Randolph Macon College in Virginia.

The Air Force has 54 of these aircraft, at a cost of $45 million per plane.

First operational in 1982, its combat debut came in December 1989 during military operations in Panama. Later, the F-117A was used extensively in the Persian Gulf War, flying more than a third of the bombing missions on the first day of bombing. The only U.S. or coalition aircraft to strike targets in downtown Baghdad, the F-117A flew approximately 1,300 sorties, and scored more than 1,000 direct hits on targets in Iraq.

They were used again during the air campaign in Kosovo, where Serbian air defenses brought one down.

Although incapable of operating from aircraft carriers, they can refuel in-flight from tanker aircraft giving them a wide combat range.

Both the F-117 and the B-2 stealth aircraft are relatively slow, achieving “high subsonic” speeds.


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