Was the F-117 Truly a Stealth Fighter?

Was the F-117 Truly a Stealth Fighter?

In order to engage Soviet AWACs, this “stealth fighter” would have to open its weapons bay doors to fire an internal payload of Sidewinder missiles. Once those doors opened, however, the Nighthawk’s stealth would be compromised.

Seemingly aware that the operational F-117 wasn’t the most broadly capable combat aircraft, Lockheed’s proposal offered a drastically improved iteration of the platform, complete with double the internal payload capacity of the original. The wings would be given a 42-degree sweep, rather than the Nighthawk’s 50-degree, and would extend out 50% further, to 64 feet. At the tail of the aircraft, additional horizontal ailerons were added to make it more manageable at the low speeds required for carrier landings.

Not satisfied with the Nighthawk’s top speed of right around 680 miles per hour, Lockheed looked to the more powerful F114 engines that would later find a home in the Super Hornet. These afterburning turbofans built by GE produced 13,000-pounds of thrust under normal operation and as much as 22,000-pounds with the afterburner engaged. Using a pair of these engines in the Seahawk would have made it significantly faster than its Air Force sister, and potentially could have pushed all the way into supersonic flight.

The carrier-based Seahawk’s missiles would take their cues from a multi-mode air-to-air and air-to-ground radar and an Infrared Search and Tracking System (IRST) comparable to what can be found in many fighter jets. In other words, this new “stealth fighter” would have actually been a real stealth fighter.

In 1995, Lockheed reportedly pitched the Seahawk to the U.S. Navy at a per-unit price of $70 million, assuming an order of 255 airframes, but the Navy ultimately declined. By then the F-22 was in development, making it clear that a purpose-built stealth fighter would be a more capable and cost-effective choice than modifying the F-117.

You can read more about the F-117N Seahawk in our full feature on it here, or you can learn about the effort to field the F-22 on aircraft carriers here.

Alex Hollings is a writer, dad, and Marine veteran who specializes in foreign policy and defense technology analysis. He holds a master’s degree in Communications from Southern New Hampshire University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Corporate and Organizational Communications from Framingham State University.

This article first appeared at Sandboxx and is being reprinted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters