Although the iconic Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk was officially retired from active service in 2008 but the U.S. Air Force is still flying the stealth aircraft at Tonopah Test Range (TTR). According to a few reports, Decade After F-117 Stealth Jets Retirement 51 Nighthawk Still Remain In Inventory.
Matthew P., a plane tracker, and radio communications aficionado, picked up on the unique mission that shows F-117s just flew a mission.
Matthew tells The War Zone:
“At about 10:30am on May 18th, 2020, my scanners were running and I just happened to be looking at ADS-B when I noticed an Edwards-based NKC-135 heading south over the Angeles National Forest. It was not showing any callsign. Moments later, I heard some chatter on an air refueling frequency between three aircraft. The tanker being GHOST27 and the receivers were KNIGHT01 and KNIGHT02.
The communications were just some basic chatter about intentions while they were in formation heading right over populated areas north of Los Angeles County. Initially, I had a feeling I was listening to the “retired” F-117s based off of previous sightings from other folks because they too used the callsign KNIGHT or LEHI. I had mixed thoughts because why would they fly F-117s right over one of the most populated cities and risk being seen? That is until I stepped outside and realized it was completely overcast. Sure enough, Satellite imagery showed much of Southern California was socked in at the time.
As they reached their work area over the ocean, it seemed they checked in with an E-2 Hawkeye callsign EAGLE31 while their tanker GHOST27 started a racetrack pattern for refueling. At this point, I still wasn’t sure for sure what I was hearing until GHOST and KNIGHT left the offshore W-291 range heading northbound back to the R-2508 complex, and then it became dead obvious who KNIGHT was. Their tanker GHOST27 handed them weather for Tonopah Test Range and it sounded like the winds were debatable out there and they might have to attempt to land and divert to Edwards AFB if they couldn’t make it down.
Overall this was pretty interesting to say the very least and it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
You can listen to the whole radio exchange here.
Now it is clear that they are flying missions out to sea, over America’s vast range complexes off the Southern California coast. It isn’t clear exactly what the F-117s were doing out there but it’s confirmed that they are still flying 12 years after retirement.