The retired YF-117 Nighthawk (S/N 79-10783) known for flying over Edwards in the final four-ship formation flight more than six years ago returned to Edwards once again, but this time to join the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum’s line up of historic aircraft.
After years of being displayed at the AFFTC Museum’s Blackbird Air Park in Palmdale, Calif., it was moved to Edwards over a two-day relocation effort that began June 7 in order to help restore the aircraft.
“When this aircraft was initially decommissioned, it was intended to be placed indoors. Unfortunately, it was located outside, on public display in Blackbird Air Park,” said George Welsh, 95th Air Base Wing Museum director and curator. “Over the years, the physical condition of the aircraft had deteriorated considerably due to the weather conditions in this area. Cold nights, hot days, occasional intense rains and constant winds have caused the paint to fade and the protective skin coating to start deteriorating, so the aircraft was brought back for a new restoration to help preserve it.”
As part of the relocation effort, museum staff and countless volunteers braved a 35-mile tow that lasted more than eight hours under the cover of night in order to get the aircraft to Edwards.
“Progress was slow due to a number of reasons. Aircraft towing speed was only five miles per hour and some areas of the route were very narrow. Although we knew we had the clearance, in some cases only a foot off each wing tip, the tow tractor was not very maneuverable, thus making the move very difficult to ‘thread the needle’ at times,” Welsh said. “As for our volunteers, we not only had a number of museum and Edwards volunteers, we also had support from a private vehicle escort company called US Pilot, based out of Big Pine, Calif. They supplemented the escort and the security was provided by the California Highway Patrol up to the Edwards gate. In addition to that, countless units from around the base provided amazing support in order for this move to happen.”
Despite the night-long move, some volunteers saw this opportunity as a once in a lifetime event.
“Although the move made for a long day for me seeing how I also worked the day of the move, the overall experience was great” said William J. Simone, 419th Flight Test Squadron, B-2 flight test engineer and a museum committee chairman who volunteered in the move. “All the volunteers did a great job and, on top of that, we made history.”
Once the aircraft arrived at Edwards, it was put into inside storage where it will await full restoration.
“For now, it will remain in Hangar 1210 which will protect it from the elements and it will not go back on display until we can get a new museum built outside the base’s West Gate,” said Welsh.
A new facility at Edwards West Gate is being planned that will complement the already existing Century Circle display allowing the public unrestricted access to the museum collection. The goal is relocate the museum in stages as funds become available.
According to Welsh, once the aircraft is ready to be restored, it should not require internal restoration, just surface restoration.
“We need to address the skin coating issue, seal all the seams and apply new paint and markings,” added Welsh. “After all this is accomplished, Edwards will have one of only four F-117s that remain on display.”
For more information on the AFFTC museum or visiting the museum, call (661) 277-8050. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for personnel with base access.
Please note that access to Edwards AFB is restricted. The museum is accessible only to base personnel and individuals who have appropriate credentials to enter the installation.
For those who do not have base access there is a General Public Tour offered twice a month. The tours are free, but reservations are required. For more information on the General Public Tours, visit www.edwards.af.mil or call (661) 277-3511.
The museum’s YF-117A (USAF serial number 79-10783, known as 783) is the fourth Full Scale Development (FSD) aircraft, being delivered on December 5, 1981. Lockheed pilot Tom Morganfeld flew it for the first time on July 7, 1982. Two functional check flights by Air Force pilots were followed by several weeks of infrared signature measurements. This was followed by integration of avionics for Infrared Acquisition and Designation System trials. From April 24 to July 23, 1984, 783 was flown against F-14, F-15, F-16, and EF-111A aircraft to collect air-to-air threat analysis data. Afterward, the airplane was used alternatively between low-observables tests and integration of improvements to navigation and weapon delivery systems. In October 1984, two Navy pilots used 783 to conduct a performance review to evaluate the F-117A for carrier suitability. In March 1989, 783 was officially accepted by the Air Force. In 1998, after being assigned to the 410th Flight Test Squadron, 783 became the first F-117A modified in the Single Configuration Fleet program, a four-month test series to evaluate an optimized radar-absorbent coating to improve maintainability. In April 2004, the airplane was used to evaluate a two-tone grey camouflage paint scheme. In March 28, 2007, 783 flew in the final F-117 four-ship formation flight during a sortie over the Antelope Valley. 783 was retired in March 2007 with 2,464.6 flight hours.
After its retirement, volunteers with the 410th Flight Test Squadron, assigned to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., but based at nearby U.S. Air Force Plant 42, prepared 783 for static display. In doing so, the aircraft had to be slightly modified. The original leading edges, nose assembly, pitot tubes and exhaust were removed and replaced, due to their sensitive technology. Modifications also included the cockpit. Aluminum sheet replaced the canopy and sensor glass.
March 3, 2008, 783 was moved from the 410th FLTS to Blackbird Air Park in Palmdale, Calif.
Information courtesy of the Flight Test Historical Foundation