The story of a lucky F-117A pilot who survived Nighthawk disintegration at the Chesapeake Air Show

The story of a lucky F-117A pilot who survived Nighthawk disintegration at the Chesapeake Air Show

On Sept. 14, 1997, at about 3 p.m. F-117A #81-793 piloted by Maj. Bryan Knight disintegrated into midair and crashed into A house during a flyby at the Chesapeake Air Show

F-117A Nighthawk with approximately 11,000 pounds of fuel aboard was making its third and final pass of the airfield at the Chesapeake Air Show in front of 12,000 people and was preparing to return to its base when the crash occurred.

The piloted Maj. Bryan Knight was safely ejected and was taken to Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., for treatment of minor injuries to his neck and back and for observation.

Knight was an instructor pilot in the 7th FS with more than 2,770 flying hours, including 500 in the F-117A.

Open the link to see All Videos of the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk Crash at Chesapeake Air Show


On October 13th, 1997 in an Interview with “Air Force Times”  piloted Maj. Bryan Knight shares his F-117A Nighthawk crash experience:

Having completed the last of three scheduled flybys above the crowded air show in Maryland, I ascended into the blue sky, leveled out at 10,000 feet, and turned south toward Langley Air Force Base, Va.

“It was a beautiful day to fly,”

“I thought it was over and I’m on my way home.”

Without warning the plane shuddered with “a pretty rapid vibration” and veered sharply to the left. The violent acceleration jerked at Knight and “G-forces pinned my head down and forward,”

All I could see was the lower part of the instrument panel. I thought maybe I had had a midair” collision. Knight had no way of knowing that his stealth fighter, one of the world’s most sophisticated aircraft, was disintegrating around him.

Related Article: The story of a lucky SR-71 pilot who survived Blackbird disintegration at a speed of Mach 3.2

Video of Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk Crash at Chesapeake Air Show

The aircraft was rolling right. The nose was pitching around. My impression was that the aircraft wasn’t moving forward. Looking outside the cockpit, I saw only land and water, but I “knew where the people were. That was my concern.

I realized there was a good chance the aircraft couldn’t be flown out of this.

Working the stick and throttle, I fought the plane’s motions. As the aircraft descended, I struggled to guide it toward the water

I don’t think my control inputs had an effect

Five seconds before the plane crashed and exploded I ejected.

That was probably the hardest decision I ever made in my life.

I dreaded having to pull those handles. I realized I had to get out right now or I may not survive.”

As I parachuted to the ground, I watched the plane descend through trees, land in the front yard of a residence, and explode into a fireball.

I felt I was headed for the fireball. As fate would have it. Knight suffered only minor injuries from which he has recovered.

Defense Secretary William Cohen commended Knight in a speech for staying “with that aircraft until the very end.”
In retrospect, Knight is unsure if his efforts accomplished anything. The 36-year-old pilot insists he is not a hero.

Absolutely not, “I was doing exactly what I was trained to do. Every member of my squadron would have done the same thing. In no way am I a hero.”

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  1. The proposal should be put forward that the Air force is not at fault for the F-117 A falling out of the sky and crashing in Maryland on 9/14/1997, based on something seen and photographed around the Syr. NY airport that day. I had sent a registered package down to the Air Combat Command in early April of 1998 containing 2 photos, one of the F-117 A flying by the Syr. NY airport on it’s way to Maryland, plus a 2nd photo that caught something strange moving around in the air near the airport, with 4 military planes flying in formation on the same photo. I wonder what their evaluation of my photos was, and what the 4 pilots said to the Air Force or were they told to not speak of this matter in public? An enlargement of the “strange anomaly” from a Walmart printer/scanner in 2016 showed something truly bizarre and not known to this day.

  2. not found in the crash were several wing attach bolts. The wings had been removed for maintenance several months earlier. They had noticed that one wing sat lower than the other but all of the planes were a little different from the others so they dismissed it as just one of those things. Interestingly the plane’s flight computer fought the plane and kept it level all the way to the ground.

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