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.