An exhibit displaying the first operational stealth fighter opened at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. The F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter was unveiled during the Reagan National Defense Forum at the museum in Simi Valley Saturday, the Los Angeles Daily News reported . The stealth fighter joins an F-14 fighter as part of a permanent display about Reagan’s efforts to strengthen the nation’s defenses.
The aircraft, given tail number 803 and nicknamed “Unexpected Guest,” entered service in May 1984 and flew 78 missions, more than all other F-117s combined, officials said. The F-117 Nighthawk was designed to evade radar as a sub-sonic aircraft that used radar-absorbing material. The aircraft’s angular shape was designed to reflect radar waves. It was painted black to make it more difficult to see against the sky while flying precision strikes at night, officials said.
Lockheed Martin produced 59 operational F-117s and five developmental prototypes between 1981 and 2008, but the aircraft was not publicly acknowledged until 1988. It was born in the aerospace company’s so-called Skunk Works in Burbank, California. The aircraft came to the museum as a joint project between the Reagan Foundation & Institute and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. Lockheed spent $1 million to restore the airplane and the foundation spent $200,000 to install it as part of the library’s Peace Through Strength exhibit, officials said.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Stimpert, who attended the unveiling, flew 500 hours in the fighter between 1987 and 1991. He was assigned to fly the F-117 while it was still a secret aircraft and saw the stealth fighter’s full potential in January 1991 over Iraq during the Gulf War, he said. “I know we’d seen tests where it worked but I hoped it really would,” Stimpert said. “The first real baptism by fire was the opening night of the Gulf War over Baghdad. We flew 1,300 total sorties (missions) and not one was struck.”