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The Military

F-117A Stealth Fighter Retired 476

zonker writes "Nearly 30 years ago Lockheed Martin's elite Skunk Works team developed what would become the F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter. A few of their earlier projects include the SR-71 Blackbird and U2 Dragon Lady spy planes. Today is the last for the Stealth Fighter, which is being replaced by the F-22 Raptor (another Skunk Works project)."
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F-117A Stealth Fighter Retired

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  • Fuel leaking SR-71's (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LM741N ( 258038 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @01:59PM (#23147808)
    I understand that the SR-71's leaked fuel until they got up high enough so that the vacuum pressed everything together tightly. But speaking of engines, how did they keep the fuel from igniting from the engine while it was leaking?
    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:00PM (#23147840) Homepage
      No - it wasn't the vacuum it was the heat from the drag caused by the supersonic speed that heated the plane enough to stop the leaks.
      • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:16PM (#23148102)
        Also the SR-71 would have only just enough fuel to take off and revendevous with a jet tanker as soon as possible.
        • by ahabswhale ( 1189519 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:56PM (#23148844)
          I used to be in the Air Force and had the pleasure to watch these things launch. They took off with full afterburners and the entire base would shake from the roar of the engines. Blue flame rings would shoot many feet out the back of the engines. Watching the SR-71 take off was the most amazing thing I've ever seen and I would always stop to watch it. Others who had been in the AF over a dozen years would stop too even though they've seen it launch hundreds of times. Just an incredible and inspiring plane.

          You always knew when they were going to launch one because they would start sending out tankers (3 to 4) a good hour or so before they launched the Blackbird.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jddj ( 1085169 )

            They've got one of these beautiful planes at the Udvar-Hazy flight center [si.edu], near Dulles airport (Outside Washington, DC).

            It's worth a trip well-out-of-your-way to see the thing - you can get right up close to it, and it is astonishingly attractive; moreso for being so secret and rare.

            There's a whole bunch more good stuff at Udvar-Hazy - a great aviation museum.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by delong ( 125205 )
              There's one at the Hill AFB flight museum in Layton, Utah as well. You can walk right up and touch it.

              There's a B-2 parked out front that you can walk under. That's quite a sight.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by winkydink ( 650484 ) *
            Trust me, it lacks the sphincter-puckering powqer of watching the B-52's do their bi-annual minimum interval take off [all-hazards.com].

            That looks like the end of the world.
        • by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @03:19PM (#23149178) Journal

          Also the SR-71 would have only just enough fuel to take off and revendevous with a jet tanker as soon as possible.
          A loaded B-52 certainly had to, but the SR-71 didn't necessarily have this profile. The only one I ever saw up close took off from our SAC base without a tanker going along. That's not to say there wasn't a tanker up there (there was another SAC base with tankers only 200 miles away).

          More curious to me was the fact that the one we refueled had two LOX tanks, contrary to the manual's statement of only one. It had the normal one under the cockpit, and a second one in the airframe between the wings/engines. I surmise the second was a propulsion system oxidizer. The JP-7 fuel being a kerosene, the combination with LOX would have given it the propulsion profile of rocket motors being used from 1945 on. As a constantly afterburning ramjet at speed, the engines could have easily been adapted to do this.

          And frankly I don't recall the one we loaded as having leaked, from hoses-on to taxi-out.
      • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:32PM (#23148380) Homepage Journal
        And AFAIK, that was by design. They knew it would expand, so they took advantage of that and optimized the plane for flight, rather than sitting on the ground, which makes sense to me. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SR-71#Fuselage [wikipedia.org]

        To allow for thermal expansion at the high operational temperatures the fuselage panels were manufactured to fit only loosely on the ground. Proper alignment was only achieved when the airframe warmed up due to air resistance at high speeds, causing the airframe to expand several inches. Because of this, and the lack of a fuel sealing system that could handle the extreme temperatures, the aircraft would leak JP-7 jet fuel onto the runway before it took off. The aircraft would quickly make a short sprint, meant to warm up the airframe, and was then refueled in the air before departing on its mission... On landing after a mission the canopy temperature was over 300 C, too hot to approach.
        I could read about the SR-71 all day long. That thing was a freaking marvel in every sense of the word and there are a million neat details about it, and it's amazing to consider that it was built in the early 60s. One little tidbit you'll often hear (so it must be true ;-) ) -- "if a surface-to-air missile launch were detected, standard evasive action was simply to accelerate and climb." The freaking thing officially flew across the country in 68 minutes. [wikipedia.org]
        • by myth_of_sisyphus ( 818378 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @04:00PM (#23149720)
          A good SR-71 anecdote. From "Sled Driver"

                  "One day, high above Arizona, we were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. 'Ninety knots,' ATC replied. A twin Bonanza soon made the same request. 'One-twenty on the ground,' was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was. 'Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,' ATC responded.

                  The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walter's mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walter startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, 'Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.' We did not hear another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast."

    • by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:04PM (#23147896) Journal
      They leaked fuel until the heat caused by friction (like on the space shuttle) made the panels fit together by thermal expansion. [wikipedia.org] The fuel was also very difficult to ignite.
      • I heard of stories where the had the fuel in an open container and would drop a lighted match in it, the fuel would not ignite. Don't know the truthienss of the story but it does convey how hard it was to ignite.
        • by DAtkins ( 768457 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:34PM (#23148424) Homepage
          There was an episode of Mythbusters which, while not directly related, did show that diesel and jet fuel would not ignite even under a plumbers blowtorch.

          As always, it's the air/fuel mixture that's the important part. This does not hold for gasoline, which gives off vapors quite nicely, thank you.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by MightyYar ( 622222 )

          I heard of stories where the had the fuel in an open container and would drop a lighted match in it, the fuel would not ignite.
          Well, since that's true of plain-old kerosene, I don't doubt it for exotic blends of jet fuel.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mhall119 ( 1035984 )
        This is slashdot, so someone has to point it out. The shuttle experiences heating from ram pressure [wikipedia.org], not friction.

        See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_shuttle_thermal_protection_system [wikipedia.org]

        • "Friction"


          "In physics, ram pressure is a pressure exerted on a body which is moving through a fluid medium. It causes a strong drag force to be exerted on the body."


          "n fluid dynamics, drag (sometimes called resistance) is the force that resists the movement of a solid object through a fluid (a liquid or gas). Drag is made up of friction forces"

          So it looks to me to be friction, just the creation of a pressure buffer taking the direction friction.
        • by pato101 ( 851725 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @03:37PM (#23149430) Journal
          You are both right and wrong. I'll try to clarify. The heat transfer between a fluid and a solid wall happens a the viscous zone so called boundary layer, where friction happens. On the other hand, the temperature which modulates this heat transfer is the external flow total temperature which is where viscous effects are negligible.
          The total temperature is given by the compressible isentropic flow behaviour:
          Tt/Tamb = 1+ (k-1)/k*M^2, where
          Tt is the total temperature in K or Rankine,
          Tamb is the ambient temperature in same units above,
          k is the heat coefficient ratio, for the air is 1.4 and
          M is the mach number.
          Thus, for a 3.5 Mach number, the maximum for SR-71, the total temperature is:
          Tt = Tamb*(1+0.29*3.5^2)=Tamb*4.5,
          and for a Tamb of -50 degrees celsius (-58 deg Fahrenheit), becomes,
          Tt = 223*4.5=1003K = 730 deg C = 1346 deg F

          At that speed, the ambient is sooooo hot! even when the atmosferic temperature may be soo freezing!!!!.
          At the leading edge of the SR-71 wings and the fuselage nose, you reach such temperature without any kind of viscous effects; just because you stagnate the flow isentropically there: you are more right than wrong at the end :P
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Deadstick ( 535032 )
          Likewise any high-speed aircraft. The temperature of a gas is simply a statistical measure of how fast its molecules are moving when they impact an object. Right now, you're sitting in the midst of lots and lots of N2 and O2 molecules that are bouncing around in the disordered manner that we call Brownian motion. Every time one of them hits you, it transfers a tiny amount of energy into the cell it hits. Turn up your thermostat and they'll bounce around faster; your skin will sense that it's being pounded o
    • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:29PM (#23148316)

      But speaking of engines, how did they keep the fuel from igniting from the engine while it was leaking?
      I was stationed at Beale and spent many nights on standby while they fueled the Blackbird. Its fuel is almost impossible to ignite without the catalyst tetraethylborane (TEB), which ignites on contact with air. There where often pools of fuel under the plane when they sat in the hangars for a few days.

      The thing that I always thought amazing at the time I worked with them was that the avionics seemed so outdated in an age where most older airframes where being fitted with glass. Lot's of round gages and such.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tygt ( 792974 )
      The fuel was almost impossible to ignite; it took some really nasty explosive chemical to start the burners (from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SR71 [wikipedia.org]):

      JP-7 is very slippery and extremely difficult to light in any conventional way. The slipperiness was a disadvantage on the ground, since the aircraft leaked fuel when not flying, but at least JP-7 was not a fire hazard. When the engines of the aircraft were started, puffs of tetraethylborane (TEB), which ignites on contact with air, were injected into the engin

  • by WiglyWorm ( 1139035 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:03PM (#23147870) Homepage
    why are they called "stealth fighters"? They're actually a tactical bomber, and so far as I know, they don't have any method of attacking another air craft.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Because back in the day when it was being designed they called it a fighter to confuse potential spies.
    • by bigkahunafish ( 708759 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:08PM (#23147954)
      the theories regarding this are two-fold...

      First, fighters generally attract the better pilots than bombers, and since the F117 was a first strike or tactical strike craft, good pilots were of utmost importance...

      Second, naming it as a fighter helped with the secrecy surrounding its true capabilities and use, especially in Cold War times...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by TellarHK ( 159748 )
        I loved that game, but what always struck me as mildly depressing was playing the classic "Jetfighter II" which had the YF-23 "Black Widow" in it, the plane that eventually lost out to the F-22 in that round of fighting proposals. The YF-23 was such a gorgeous concept.

        Of course, the best thing about Jetfighter II was mid 90's game physics. I fondly recall the time I landed a YF-23 on a carrier with a three-point landing due to intentional stalling at 10 feet off the deck. Low and slow, vector thrust upwa
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Thelasko ( 1196535 )

      why are they called "stealth fighters"? They're actually a tactical bomber, and so far as I know, they don't have any method of attacking another air craft.
      I suspect they called it that to make advisories confused about the aircraft's capabilities.
      • Correction:
        I suspect they called it that to make adversaries confused about the aircraft's capabilities.

        proving once again that spell check isn't fool proof.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The USAF fleet underwent significant consolidation in the cold year wars, with some of the light to medium bombers roles being moved to the new heavier multirole fighters of the era, with great effect. Thats where the F-117 gets its fighter designation.
    • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:45PM (#23148640) Journal
      why are they called "stealth fighters"? They're actually a tactical bomber, ...

      When the Continental Congress put together the country's very first army, they named it the "Second Army".

      The military is about hurting people and breaking things until the other side knuckles under. As Patton pointed out this works better if few of your own guys die for their country while getting the other poor saps to die for their own. A good military operation grabs every opportunity to improve their odds, both of success and survival.

      If calling a bomber a fighter both confuses the spys and gets the best pilots to enjoy flying its exceptionally high-value missions (with support and sensor technology limited to preserve stealth), why not do it?
  • by thewils ( 463314 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:03PM (#23147882) Journal
    I'm sure it will retire to a nice well-paid job in the defense industry.
  • Microprose (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tangent3 ( 449222 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:04PM (#23147904)
    My fondest memories of the F117 is playing the Microprose simulator [wikipedia.org]. The original version was named F19 Stealth Fighter until the F117 was declassified in which the version 2.0 of the game, updated with VGA graphics and Persian Gulf campaigns was renamed F117A Stealth Fighter.

    It was quite an interesting change, whereas in most other combat flight simulators like Falcon 3.0 and F15 Strike Eagle I would be actively seeking a fight with any enemy on my radar and pumping them full of sidewinders or 20MM, in F117A the mission is to avoid the enemy patrols and ground radars
    • I used to play that on my Commodore 128 along with Red Storm Rising. (Ironically the graphics were better for my Commodore 128 than on my family's 386DX30mhz.)

      Anyways, I found this weird bug that if I had my pitch at just the right degree and was flying at the max ceiling. I could fly across the entire mediteranean on zero fuel. Of course, this meant only one chance to land the sucker...

      But on more than one occasion I took out my target, was low on fuel...jetted up to 50,000ft and pointed my noise in just
  • by QuantumRiff ( 120817 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:05PM (#23147906)
    the SR-71 was designed in the 60's, the stealth fighter was designed in the 70's, the F-22 started in the mid 80's, kinda makes you wonder what the hell they're working on now!

    I was pretty young, but I don't remember there being nearly as much "public" information about the stealth fighter until it was used in action. It seems there is alot more details about the F-22 before it was in service. Is that because there is more communication with the taxpayers nowadays, or because they don't want you to ask whats in the left hand?
    • by TellarHK ( 159748 ) <tellarhk AT hotmail DOT com> on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:10PM (#23147992) Homepage Journal
      Knock your SR-71 design estimate back about a decade. The OXCART contract that created the SR-71 (evolving it from the A-12) was awarded in 1959, so all the real design work was done before 1960, it was just the construction that took a couple years. And the SR-71 served damn well until we put enough satellites in the sky to cover things almost as well with closer to realtime monitoring.

      Sometimes it makes you wonder just how many eyes the military really has up there now, if they were willing to mothball the SR-71 with no (public) clear successor.
      • by peragrin ( 659227 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:53PM (#23148802)
        Actually the SR-71 served damn well until we put enough DIGITAL satellites into Orbit. The reason why the SR-71 was so useful was because the film canister could be brought back down quickly to develop the images. That didn't work so well for Satellites.

        The SR-71 is one of my all time favorite planes. One has to remember it was built with 1960's tech, as such digital computers and camera's weren't available yet.
    • by PortHaven ( 242123 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:19PM (#23148160) Homepage

      The F-22 is the real "stealth fighter". The F-117A was the stealth attack craft/tactical bomber.

      Fighters usually aren't all that super secret. But reconnaissance, and strategic assault vehicles. Now those are secret.

      The F-117A's mission is likely to be super-seded by unmanned stealth drones.

      The SR-71 was retired a while back. The F-117A was NOT a replacement for the SR-71. Rather, both operated concurrently for some time.

      The mostly likely replacement for the Blackbird is the Aurora project. Sometimes caught by seismologists and observers. Rumored to use a a pulsating scramjet and being the mach 5-8 range.

      Then there is the B2 (flying wing) bomber and the B1-B The B1-B being famous for numerous crashes. Though very few in later years. What was the change? The government had been only doing 85% of the maintenance recommended for the bombers by it's manufacturers. They began doing the full maintenance recommended maintenance, fluid changes, etc. Things ceased failing...go figure.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by smallfries ( 601545 )
        Well if you want to know what they look like... I can't vouch for how accurate these images are. I can see that they are either the largest clerical fuckup of all time, or a great hoax.

        Travelling through Madrid airport in the summer of 2003 there was a series of display cases with every Lockhead Martin aircraft every made. Gorgeous little wooden carvings. When I saw this beauty [flickr.com] I nearly dropped from shock. Then I walked backwards on the travelator to snap the pic - hence the horrible blur. There is also a c [flickr.com]
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Thelasko ( 1196535 )
      Sheriff of Rottingham: This is a stealth catapult, we've been working on it secretly for months. It can hurl one of these heavy boulders undetected, over a hundred yards, completely destroying anything in its path.

      Prince John: Wow! How's it work?

      Sheriff of Rottingham: It's rather simple. You get one of these heavy boulders, put it here where I'm sitting, and then pull on that lever.

      Prince John: Like this?

      [John pulls the lever and flings Mervin into the air]

      Sheriff of Rottingham: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGG
  • Wasn't it more of a bomber than a fighter?
    • Re:'Fighter?' (Score:5, Informative)

      by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:15PM (#23148082) Journal
      Yes. So far as I am aware, it was never designed for air-to-air combat. Rather, it was to be used as it was in the first days of the 1990 Gulf conflict during Bush I's tenure: to hit high value, heavily defended targets.

      More information on the role of the F-117 can be found at Frontline [pbs.org], AirToAirCombat.com [airtoaircombat.com], FAS [fas.org] as well as other sources on the intertubes. Last link has pictures of the aircraft as well as pictures and a non-Flash video of the aftermath of the only F-117 to ever be shot down. In this case, over Serbia.

  • by TellarHK ( 159748 ) <tellarhk AT hotmail DOT com> on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:05PM (#23147918) Homepage Journal
    In a day and age where aircraft from the 1950's are still flying and in active service, to see something like the F-117 come and go so quickly has to be a sign of major design limitations from the first day of use.

    Two bombs, no Air-to-Air capability other than playing "How not to be seen." really well, and subsonic speeds just seemed to make the F-117 come across as oddball in my eyes. Either the F-22 has better stealth than we realize, or there's something newer, more stealthier and more secretive coming around.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Gregb05 ( 754217 )
      The B-2 is what you're looking for. Longer operational range, bigger payload, better stealth, looks prettier and it's easier to fly.
      B-2 is for stealth bombing and midnight strikes, F-22 is for air fighting, B-52 is used for heavy hitting when the radar is down or irrelevant. There's no niche for the F-117 any more.
      • by PortHaven ( 242123 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:36PM (#23148474) Homepage
        There was a proposition to modify the B-52's with reverse-stealth technology.

        A similar idea had been proposed for the B-52's a few years ago. Since you can't really make such a craft stealth, how do you keep them viable.

        Well B-52s are mainly used in one of two capacities. Single bomber support role, carpet bombing (albeit with more intelligent bombs these days) in prep for a land transaction. Or the more purposeful original intention of a strategic bomber. In which case a whole flight of bombers would be sent out to level much foe.

        But with radar and missiles, how can such aircraft get to their targets.

        I used to work on a 90ft schooner (sailboat for the landlubbers). Anyways, we had a radar reflector that would make us show up much larger on radar.

        The idea was to go the opposite route. Instead of stealth, have all the B-52's light up those radars as bright as they can. So instead of seeing the large B-52 on the radar you'd see something akin to the size of the ships in Independence Day. Huge giant radar blob. In fact dozens of giant radar blobs.

        So yes, you'd know something was coming. The radar makes that clear. But trying to pin point it's exact position and mobilize fighters becomes more challenging because well, it's showing up in almost a mile of air space or more. I don't think the Air Force ever went thru with the expense. But one never knows...it might have been done and listed as $200 toilet seats. ;-)

    • That's my big question.

      How does the radar signature of the F-22 compare to the F-117.

      Another big issue, might have been China's development of tying the RADAR units together and analyzing the data so that they could track the F-117A. Defeating it's stealth capabilities.

      Such a blow pretty much made the craft useless strategically and only of good in small tactical situations against poorly equipped foes.
      • How does the radar signature of the F-22 compare to the F-117.

        Very favorably [centennialofflight.gov], from what I've seen....

        "Aircraft designers generally describe an airplane's radar cross section in terms of "decibel square meters," or dBsm. This is an analogy that compares the plane's radar reflectivity to the radar reflectivity of an aluminum sphere of a certain size. The B-2 reportedly has a radar signature of an aluminum marble. The F-22 Raptor interceptor is roughly the same, and the F-117 is only slightly less stealthy. The newer Joint Strike Fighter has the signature of an alumi

    • or there's something newer, more stealthier and more secretive coming around
      Isn't there always? We, of course, just haven't heard about it yet. Maybe in about 20 years...
    • by hcdejong ( 561314 ) <hobbes AT xmsnet DOT nl> on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:25PM (#23148256)
      Count on the F-22 having better radar stealth than the F-117. The F-117 fell victim to Moore's law: During its design, all the engineers were capable of simulating (for stealth characteristics) were flat panels, hence the faceted skin, which dictated the rest of the design.

      The size was another compromise (smaller = easier to hide), and the engines didn't have afterburners to minimise the IR signature, which meant no supersonic flight. Radar technology wasn't advanced enough to build a low-observable (or Low Probability of Intercept, LPI) air search radar, and a 1970's radar would compromise the aircraft's stealthiness even when turned off.

      Oddball maybe, but the F-117 was the best possible design with 1970s technology. To get it to work at all, everything else had to be sacrificed for the one mission that couldn't be done by any other platform: surprise attacks.
    • by Ironsides ( 739422 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:30PM (#23148346) Homepage Journal

      Either the F-22 has better stealth than we realize, or there's something newer, more stealthier and more secretive coming around.

      Both. The F-22 is the first true stealth fighter, the B-2 is the first true stealth bomber. The F-117 was really a stealth hack. That said, given the long developement times on aircraft, there is always something newer in the works. Also, fighters (among other things) are made to be upgradeable over their lifespan. There have been 3 different generations of the F-18 for the military alone and the older ones are usually upgraded along the way instead of being replaced. That is in addition to 'minor' upgrades such as electronics. If you want to know what is cuttin edge today, you need a high level security clearance and to be in the need to know.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by maxume ( 22995 )
      The stealth technology at the point the plane was designed required that the plane have flat surfaces. The plane was built, on purpose, in the face of a major design limitation. As much as anything, it was a proof of concept that got more funding than it should have(i.e., the military probably didn't need to actually buy a production run).

      The F-22 might not have better stealth than we realize, but it is pretty clear that it is a whole new class of aircraft(beating expert F-15 pilots 3 to 1 is no joke) and i
    • by Darth_brooks ( 180756 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <773reppilc>> on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:33PM (#23148412) Homepage
      Your generalizations don't quite fit here.

      True, the B-52 and C-130 are 1950's vintage *designs*, the actual airframes that are still in service are very late runs off the line. The current B-52's were built between 1960 and 1961, and the C-130's should all be post-1965 (or later). They also don't share any of the tactical missions that the F-117 performs. For example, the B-52 is a heavy bomber. It's going to drop a whole hell of a lot of metal on a target, or carry 1.5 imperial assloads of cruise missiles near a target, unload them, then head back home in time for "Lost". The C-130 has perfected the art of flying rubber dog poop out of Hong Kong.

      Now, the F-117's job is to take the first steps towards making the C-130 or the B-52's job possible. Strike missions on heavily defended targets. Given the high tolerances the skin of the airframe must meet in order to stay stealthy, normal wear and tear on the airframe (say, a wing tip that is now an inch or two higher than before thanks to a high-G turn) could negate most of the aircraft's advantage. Comparing the F-117 to anything is is comparing oranges to briefcases.

      The statement always comes up "what're they working on now? I bet they're using them thar captured UFO's and roswell alien stuff now!!!" Ummm, yeah, I doubt it. Instead of shrinking the airframe's radar signature in order to protect the pilot, they've just gone ahead and shrunk the airframe *and* the radar signature. Tomahawks, Predator drones, better satellites, and better communications between all three. That's what has retired the SR-71 and the F-117.

      I think we're finally beginning to see the retirement of some of the meat in the seat for the really, really, really dangerous stuff. You can have a $120 million dollar fighter with $3-5 million dollars worth of pilot take out a target, or $3 million dollar drone hit the same target. Even the government can do that math.
      • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:39PM (#23148530) Homepage Journal
        How many VW's in an imperial assload?

        Seriously, though, that's a fairly nice analysis.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by khallow ( 566160 )

        I think we're finally beginning to see the retirement of some of the meat in the seat for the really, really, really dangerous stuff. You can have a $120 million dollar fighter with $3-5 million dollars worth of pilot take out a target, or $3 million dollar drone hit the same target. Even the government can do that math.

        Two things, first the marginal cost of the F-22 originally was around $25 million. What's happened is that the Pentagon is buying about a sixth as many planes as were originally planned. Second, the drones will need effective control infrastructure and as of yet, there's no standardized control infrastructure. That's going to add considerable cost. Finally, need I add that the cost of the F-22 is known while the drone cost is hypothetical. Frankly, I think there'll be considerable room for drones in a fut

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by couchslug ( 175151 )
      "In a day and age where aircraft from the 1950's are still flying and in active service, to see something like the F-117 come and go so quickly has to be a sign of major design limitations from the first day of use."

      You are forgetting that fighter/attack aircraft lifecycles are much shorter than airlift/tanker lifecycles. There isn't a technology "race" with airlifters and tankers, or heavy strategic bombers like the B-52. Fighter/attack systems are obsoleted much more quickly.

      Another factor in retiring the
  • by operagost ( 62405 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:06PM (#23147932) Homepage Journal
    ... after 56 years, the B-52s keep flying. No, I don't mean the band, although I do like the idea of roaming if I so desire.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) *
      which goes to show you how much longer an airframe can last when not put under the stresses of acm.
    • And they are expected to keep flying for another 30 years. It's going to be interesting to see what replaces them. To bad we only have about 80 left in use.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ari_j ( 90255 )
      The B-52s are coming back, though, and I do mean the band. Funplex [westerncourier.com] is the new album. o hai - im in ur lurv shakk, roman w/ all ur rock lobstahs
  • A good plane (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Protonk ( 599901 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:08PM (#23147952) Homepage
    The F-117 has a great history and it will be interesting to see it go. I'm not normally the military tech-fetishist type, but this was a supremely odd creature that got to fly. Embodied in this plane are so many examples of ingenuity and hubris, it makes a good vessel for late 20th century american history.

    We developed this plane in secret, with borrowed theories from the russians. The plane itself came out of a corporate Manhattan project, built by a combination of old salts who could wave their hands and make grumpy generalizations about engine configuration that hours of calculations would bear out and younger engineers employing technology that wasn't readily available outside the united states.

    It was kept secret until we felt the need to unveil it as the epitome of american superiority in Panama and the gulf war. We spent a decade lauding the precision strike capability, ignoring reports that smart bombs were only so smart. Only in the past 5 years have we grudgingly come to accept that there were limitations to the strategy of aerial bombardment, limitations that hampered our ability to fight and killed civilians on the ground. But that doesn't make this plane or its pilots evil or murderous. We just became caught up in the technology, the gritty night vision cameras resulting in static filled screens where buildings used to be.

    In a lot of ways, that is similar to our love affair with this plane. Ugly, but elegant. Unflyable without computer aided control but possessing strangely beautiful lines. Born of american ingenuity and sullied by hubris. It is a wonderful aircraft, and a great story. Thanks to the men (and women) who built it and flew it throughout the years.
  • Not that great (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:10PM (#23147994) Journal
    The stealth fighter was really more of a proof of concept of what stealth technology could do. The plane sacrificed quite a bit in aerodynamics to be stealth capable. It was a subsonic vehicle and, despite what it's name suggests, it had no air-to-air combat abilities.

    Although it was revolutionary at the time it first came out, keeping this aircraft in the skies would be a disservice to the taxpaying public.
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:39PM (#23148526)
    If you enjoy this kind of thing, I can't recommend Ben Rich's book Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years of Lockheed highly enough.
  • by CompMD ( 522020 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @02:53PM (#23148780)
    I remember first seeing an F-117 as a child right around when it was declassified. I vividly remember my world slowing down as I stared at it flying in awe, and my technophobe mother ran screaming to find somewhere to hide. Fast forward to today, and here I am, staff engineer and resident computer guy for an aerospace R&D company. Over the years I've had the privilege and honor of meeting and working with some incredible folks: designers, engineers, and pilots for aircraft such as the Beech Starship, Piaggio P-180 Avanti, A-12, SR-71, U-2, F-22, F-35, XB-70, X-29, F-104, and of course the F-117.

    Today I'll think of the stories and jokes from old and retired Lockheed friends. I've already seen one today and you could see the pained look on his face as he fondly reminisced about his days working on the 117 program. Its a lovely day here in town, and I think at the end of the day I'll head to the local brewery and have a toast to the engineers who dared to dream up such a contraption, and to an aircraft that inspired many.
  • by DigitalPenguinDude ( 935415 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @03:05PM (#23148956)
    The F-22 was not a Skunk Works project. The F-22 program was acquired when Lockheed bought the General Dynamics Ft. Worth division which is now The Lockheed Tactical Aircraft division.
  • by The Second Horseman ( 121958 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @03:24PM (#23149238)
    Saw one at the air show in Rhode Island last year. The first thing you notice is how damn loud the thing is. Compared to an F-15, F-16 or F/A-18's I've seen at shows, it was just painful, not uncomfortable. Even good earplugs didn't really help - you really need substantial ear protection, and even then you're likely to feel it in your skull. Aside from that, the big thing I noticed was how rapidly it could change speed and its maneuverability. Compared to the older aircraft it's like watching a superball bounce around. If you had no idea that the plane existed and you saw it at night in the sky at a distance, you'd never believe it was an aircraft. The thrust vectoring looked really effective. You don't have to know a lot about aircraft to see the difference, either - you can watch an F-22 after seeing another demonstration and the difference is obvious.
  • by dltaylor ( 7510 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @03:31PM (#23149342)
    The F-117 and the F-22 have two completely different missions, therefore the F-22 cannot "replace" the F-117. The F-117 is a first-strike night attack bomber, deploying, mostly, precision-guided munitions. It took on roles that would have required much larger formations had they been done with the F-111 (replacement for the F-105) which had much higher visibility, so needed escorts and AA suppression. The F-22 is supposed to replace the aging, but still very potent, F-15 as an air superiority fighter, while the F-15 is shuffled off to the strike fighter role as the F-15E.

    F-22s are much more expensive than F-15s. In theory, they are able to provide more kills-per-sortie than the F-15, so we would need fewer of them. The problem with that is that, despite supersonic cruise, there is only so much airspace that an F-22 can control, so, if the missions are geographically dispersed, a larger number of F-15s can provide more coverage.

    There is no longer an opposing air force in Iraq, and the Iranians were stupid enough to buy planes from us, so they don't really have one, either. Other than the US, there is almost no long-range bomber capability, so the only remaining function for the F-22 is as an escort for B-2s on first-strike missions into nations with active fighter forces, such as Russia, China, and Western Europe (if they don't stop picking on Microsoft).
  • No... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Monday April 21, 2008 @03:46PM (#23149554) Homepage
    > Today is the last for the Stealth Fighter which is being
    > replaced by the F-22 Raptor

    No it's not. The F-22 is an air-superiority fighter that is replacing the F-15 in that role. The F-117 is being replaced by nothing.

    This retirement leaves the USAF with no dedicated long-range tactical interdictors at all. While this gives them an excuse to fly the otherwise ridiculously overpriced B-1 and B-2 on these missions, it also means that in a hot-war they have a very real capability shortfall past the range of the F-16 or F-35.

  • by AbRASiON ( 589899 ) * on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @12:25AM (#23154690) Journal
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F-19_Stealth_Fighter [wikipedia.org]

    (Admitedly they change the name / details somewhat) but god damn that was a brilliant simulation for the C64, really great gameplay - well thought out levels and sadly it even taught me some geography (I still know where those SAMS are located in the Libyan campaigns)

  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Tuesday April 22, 2008 @06:35AM (#23156178)
    "Look what I just found on eBay ..."

Torque is cheap.