(Image: U.S. Federal Government via Lockheed, public domain)
Often eclipsed by its more famous relative the F-117A Nighthawk (aka Stealth Fighter), for which it served as a proof-of-concept vehicle, Lockheed’s small Have Blue technology demonstrator remains a shadowy aircraft to this day. Relatively few photographs exist in the public domain, and a crashed article that had once been earmarked for display remains buried in an unmarked grave at the Groom Lake test facility in Nevada, popularly known as Area 51.
(Images: DARPA/US Air Force; U.S. Government via Lockheed, public domain)
Designed and built by the famous Skunk Works and test flown in total secrecy from 1977 to 1979, Have Blue demonstrators XST-1 and XST-2 tested the angular, faceted design that gave the F-117A its sinister appearance and low observability.
Despite the loss of both aircraft (with pilots ejecting to safety) the programme was deemed a success and development of the larger Nighthawk went ahead. Meanwhile, both Have Blue wrecks were quietly buried in anonymous graves within the boundaries of the Nellis Test Range.
(Image: Google Earth)
One of the demonstrators was reportedly interred at Groom Lake, immediately south of the former A-12 Oxcart hangar complex (above). Years later, when Have Blue’s existence had finally been made public, Lockheed engineers set about trying to unearth the relatively intact wreck for restoration as a static display article.
(Image: USAF, public domain)
But their efforts went unrewarded. Some reports say they couldn’t find it, while others assert that the search was cancelled when engineers began unearthing the shattered components of other classified programmes. Whatever the truth may be, it’s thought that the wreck now lies beneath a paved section of recently constructed taxiway. If this is the case, Have Blue is unlikely to see the light of day any time soon – if ever!
(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)
This rare photograph shows four F-117 Nighthawks – known as Stealth Fighters – in storage at the Tonopah Test Range Airport in Nevada. It was here that the low observable jets were based during the early years of their operational life, after initial testing at the top secret Groom Lake (Area 51) facility. U.S. military aircraft traditionally retire to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, better known as the Boneyard, but the sensitive materials and still-classified nature of some F-117 components demand a more secure storage location.
(Images: Google Earth via DigitalGlobe; Inset: Airman 1st Class Vanessa LaBoy, public domain)
The surviving fleet of 52 production F-117s are stored, with wings removed, in their original hangars at Tonopah. One of the mothballed Stealth Fighters is painted in “Gray Dragon” experimental camouflage, like the aircraft shown above (inset). Only the YF-117 Full Scale Development (FSD) aircraft – externally the same – can be found on public display. Of these, one was scrapped in 2008 to test effective methods of disposing of the fleet.
(Image: YouTube screen shot – watch full clip here)
The last operational F-117 left Palmdale – home of the Lockheed Skunk Works – for Tonopah on August 11, 2008, marking the disbandment of the 410th Flight Test Squadron. Like these top secret A-12 spy planes once stored at Palmdale, the fleet has languished under cover away from prying eyes ever since. But much to the delight – and confusion – of plane spotters, the F-117 Stealth Fighter was filmed flying near Groom Lake in 2010. Four airframes plus two maintenance spares are reportedly back in use for R&D purposes, but the fate of the rest sounds decidedly ominous.
(Image: Google Earth via Europa Technologies)
It’s well known that the United States has gone to great lengths to acquire – and flight test – former Soviet fighter planes under top secret programmes like Have Doughnut and subsequent designations, carried out by shadowy test squadrons like the Red Hats. This satellite image of Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida shows a Russian MiG-23 Flogger and MiG-29 Fulcrum parked between three F-4 Phantoms. But why?
(Image: Google Earth via Europa Technologies)
Since the Cold War, U.S.-operated MiGs have traditionally flown from the Groom Lake test facility, better known as Area 51. Some have found their way to museums, despite a continued shroud of secrecy cloaking their origins. The information accompanying a MiG-21 at Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, for instance, mysteriously says “origins unknown”.
(Image: Matt Ottosen (website: Arizona Aviation Photographers), reproduced with permission)
This forum claims the MiG-29 is a former Moldovan Air Force jet that had been at Tyndall AFB since the early 1990s. Since the satellite photo was taken (2007), the Fulcrum appears to have moved to Pima Air & Space Museum in Arizona (shown above). On the museum’s website, it’s serial number is listed as “unknown”. The mystery continues.
(Image: via Gizmodo)
When the Lockheed Skunk Works developed the top secret A-12 “OXCART” spy plane for the CIA, moving it 350 miles from Burbank, California to the Groom Lake test facility was an enormous task. Secrecy precluded the use of Burbank’s runway, so the solution was sought in these massive wooden boxes. Balanced on the back of trucks, the most technologically advanced and secret aircraft of the day made its way to Nevada by road, while frustrated motorists could never have imagined what was causing the traffic jam.
(Image: james.gordon6108, cc-3.0)
After safely arriving at Groom Lake – known popularly as Area 51 – in 1962, the first aircraft was assembled and a rigorous flight test programme got underway. If one crashed, the secrecy was unprecedented. In May 1967, the CIA deployed several A-12s to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa as part of Operation Black Shield, despite the programme’s official cancellation the previous year.
(Image: CIA, public domain)
The A-12 was finally retired in 1968 due to the arrival of its more famous successor, the SR-71 Blackbird, operated by the U.S. Air Force. The shadowy spy plane exited service in the same clandestine manner that it entered, spending the next 20 years in storage at Palmdale. Even then, only those with clearance knew of its existence – until the day came (around 1990) when the airframes were dusted off and sent to museums.