Stealth On Ice! Climate Testing an F-117 at McKinley Climatic Laboratory

f 117 fsd ice climate lab  Stealth On Ice! Climate Testing an F-117 at McKinley Climatic Laboratory(Image: via US Federal Government, public domain)

Sightings over the past few years have confirmed that a small number of previously retired F-117 Nighthawks are flying again over the desert ranges of the western United States. Meanwhile, reports point to a bleak fate for the remainder of the mothballed Stealth Fighter fleet – burial near the restricted Tonopah Test Range Airport, perhaps even with their own headstones.

So you could be forgiven for thinking the above picture showed a Nighthawk carcass being placed into cryostasis pending a time when it might be resurrected. In reality, however, the airframe depicted is one of the original five full scale development (FSD) YF-117 aircraft. The picture shows the jet undergoing testing in the refrigeration system at McKinley Climatic Laboratory.

With the exception of some wreckage in Belgrade and a hybrid jet mounted on a pole outside the Skunk Works in Palmdale, the YF-117s are the only ‘Stealth Fighters’ you’re likely to get close to today. The others remain off-limits at Tonopah.

Could Mystery YF-24 Aircraft be Related to a Future Fighter?

Boeing F A XX1  Could Mystery YF-24 Aircraft be Related to a Future Fighter?(Image: Boeing via YouTube)

For several years black project researchers have debated the possible existence of a classified aircraft called the YF-24, which was referenced in the bio of test pilot Colonel Joseph Lanni. It was later redacted, causing speculation that the plane could be a foreign jet under evaluation by the US Air Force, a one-of-a-kind technology demonstrator or stealth prototype, or simply a typo.

The Pentagon has denied the existence of a YF-24, while some stealth watchers remain similarly unconvinced. But others have speculated that it could be linked to the ill-fated Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) programme or early Joint Strike Fighter studies.

Boeing Model 24F  Could Mystery YF-24 Aircraft be Related to a Future Fighter?(Image via Boeing/US Air Force study)

Dave Majumdar recently posted this interesting article on the DEW Line, citing an engineering paper for a Boeing Multirole Fighter concept dating back to the 1990s. The design – known as the Model-24F – shares commonalities with Boeing concepts for the Advanced Tactical Fighter programme, the unsuccessful X-32 demonstrator, and artist impressions of the future F/A-XX programme.

According to Majumdar, the design reflects a more agile aircraft than the current Lockheed Martin F-35 and “has provisions for two-dimensional thrust vectoring and some other interesting features. The design matches the Raptor’s top speed of about Mach 2.2 though it doesn’t cruise supersonically like the F-22.”

Boeing MRF 24X  Could Mystery YF-24 Aircraft be Related to a Future Fighter?(Image via Key Publishing Aviation Forum)

Interestingly, a more recent study shows what appears to be a tailless version of the same aircraft, with vertical and horizontal stabilisers removed and a redesigned back-end. The earlier Model-24F design apparently utilises 1998 technology, while the MRF-24X (above) study incorporates 2003 technology and appears to be a step closer to more recent Boeing F/A-XX concepts.

Whether Boeing built and flight tested a full scale demonstrator aircraft based on the Model-24F during the 1990s, and indeed whether it was related to the mysterious YF-24, remains unknown. If nothing else, these intriguing engineering studies may help map the evolution of an aircraft design from early concepts to a future air superiority fighter.

Secret U.S. Planes That Remained Relatively Intact After Crashing

crashed f 1172  Secret U.S. Planes That Remained Relatively Intact After Crashing(Photo courtesy of the Federation of American Scientists (www.fas.org)

Top secret aircraft, also known as black projects, can be powerful assets to the countries operating them, in this case the United States.  But crashes can have dire consequences both in terms of technology and diplomacy.  Usually when a black aircraft crashes, a cover story is issued and a veil of secrecy shrouds the incident.  But when a jet is still recognisable, cover stories go out the window and technology is left open to exploitation – or simply observation.  Here are five examples of secret aircraft (not all black) that have retained their overall appearances after crashing, though thankfully not all in enemy territory.

Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady

crashed u2 beijing  Secret U.S. Planes That Remained Relatively Intact After Crashing(Image: radio53, reproduced with permission)

The U-2 entered service as a top secret reconnaissance aircraft, designed by the Lockheed Skunk Works to fly higher than Soviet fighters and missiles could reach.  But the spy plane’s existence became public knowledge when CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Russia in May 1960.  Following “the U-2 incident“, five aircraft belonging to the Black Cat Squadron – a top secret CIA-sponsored Taiwanese unit – were shot down over mainland China.  The U-2 wreck above is one of those aircraft.  Remarkably intact, much to the chagrin of the U.S., the U-2 is displayed at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution in Beijing.

Lockheed A-12 (Code Name “Oxcart”)

a 12 oxcart crash  Secret U.S. Planes That Remained Relatively Intact After Crashing(Image: CIA via Pangloss Films and National Geographic)

The unmistakable shape of the Lockheed A-12 spy plane is plain to see in this recently declassified CIA photograph.  The A-12 crashed near Wendover, Utah in 1963 after entering an unrecoverable flat spin.  Pilot Ken Collins ejected and successfully deterred three locals, who came to his aid, from the crash site by telling them it was an F-105 with a nuclear weapon onboard.  The CIA later administered sodium pentothal to ensure Collins had divulged the full details of the incident.  When agents later carried him home, his wife angrily assumed he’d been out drinking with the guys.  It would be several decades before he could tell her the truth!

Lockheed Have Blue (Technology Demonstrator)

have blue technology demonstrator  Secret U.S. Planes That Remained Relatively Intact After Crashing(Image: U.S. Federal Government via Lockheed, public domain)

The Lockheed Skunk Works’ revolutionary Have Blue proof-of-concept aircraft tested a new form of low observable technology known as faceting from 1977 to 1979.  The success of Have Blue paved the way for a programme called Senior Trend, under which the F-117 Nighthawk was developed, forever changing the course of air warfare.  Two Have Blue technology demonstrators were built, both of which crashed during testing.  The aircraft were buried at Groom Lake (Area 51), but the second Have Blue was reportedly intact.  Several attempts have been made to locate the buried airframe for display, but so far none have been successful.

Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk (Stealth Fighter)

crashed f 117a  Secret U.S. Planes That Remained Relatively Intact After Crashing(Photos courtesy of the Federation of American Scientists (www.fas.org)

Despite several aircraft lost in training accidents over the United States, only one F-117 Stealth Fighter was lost in combat.  On March 27, 1999, F-117 82-0806 was shot down by a surface to air missile during the Kosovo War.  Pilot Dale Zelko was rescued, but the battered F-117 lay inverted in a field, destroyed yet alarmingly intact.  The Stealth Fighter’s canopy was displayed in Belgrade, while the rest of the wreckage was allegedly inspected by Russian personnel.  Although no longer a black project, it has been asserted that the F-117’s low observable technology helped in the development of Russian and Chinese stealth aircraft.  Others, however, dispute this on the grounds that the F-117’s stealth was more than 20-years-old at the time of the crash.

Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit (Stealth Bomber)

b 2 spirit crash  Secret U.S. Planes That Remained Relatively Intact After Crashing(Image: Federal Aviation Administration, public domain)

While the B-2 Spirit originated from the Advanced Technology Bomber (ATB) black project of the late 1970s, the production aircraft was acknowledged early on.  Even so, certain aspects of the Stealth Bomber‘s design remain classified to this day, which goes some way to explaining its hefty price tag.  Fortunately, only one has crashed and both crew members ejected safely.  The B-2’s unmistakable flying wing design and stealthy contours are apparent, despite the aircraft, named “Spirit of Kansas”, being gutted by fire.  Luckily for the U.S. government, the wreck remained within the perimeter of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.  The $1.4 billion crash was even caught on video.  Find out more at Gizmodo.

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