Retired F-117s Fly As ‘Cruise Missiles’ For Training

An F-117 Nighthawk lands for the first time at Fresno Yosemite International Airport on Sept 13.
Credit: Air National Guard

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—U.S. Air National Guard pilots are flying against officially retired F-117s as a way to practice homeland defense missiles against cruise missiles, with the stealth characteristics of the Nighthawks serving as a representation of the threat.

Two F-117s recently arrived at Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, to train with F-15s from the Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing. Photographs and video of the aircraft arriving went viral, as the aircraft have been retired from Air Force service since 2008 but reports of them operating in recent years have spread online.

Air National Guard boss Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, when asked by Aerospace DAILY if this was the first time the training has occurred, said, “I won’t comment on that.”

“When you look at 117s that come and land and do that stuff, they’re a stealth platform, right? Early days of stealth, but they’re still a stealthy platform,” Loh said. “So they can simulate things out there like cruise missiles that we would actually face. So are they a perfect platform for a cruise missile defense exercise? Absolutely.”

Loh spoke Sept. 22 at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference.

The 144th Fighter Wing at Fresno was picked for the training because it is a defense unit. It just as easily could have been other Air National Guard units that fly the Operation Noble Eagle homeland defense mission, Loh said.  

In an announcement on the F-117 dissimilar air combat training missions, the wing’s commander, Col. Troy Havener, said his Air Force unit is the first to host the Nighthawks for a full week of training. 

“This week we reap the benefits of two plus years of careful communication and determined coordination with agencies and leaders overseeing these unique USAF assets,” Havener said. “The training against integrated forces that include the F-117 will challenge and sharpen pilots, as well as build confidence in tactics and systems needed to defend our nation.”

The stealth aircraft help pilots “test difficult tactics in a realistic environment,” he said.

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.


1 Comment
So, who is operating the Nighthawks?