The cold war replaced the Second World War.  America and the West began to feel threatened by Communism as personified by the USSR. The need for new weapon systems to counter this threat became paramount. This led to the development of the stealth fighter the F-117 or Night Hawk. The plane became a legend and when it was inducted gave an edge to the USA over the monolith Soviet Union.The plane was first tested in 1981 and was retired from the USAF in 2014 in favor of the F-22 Raptor. Never the less the Night Hawk has a unique place in aviation history as, during the cold war, it was the only stealth fighter in the world.

Concept of the Night Hawk

The Night Hawk was based on the conceptual design of a Russian engineer named Pyotr Ufimtsev.

He had first elaborated on his concept of a plane that could evade radar in a paper in 1964. Ironically the Russians ignored his findings, but the US engineers at Lockheed studied his concept and used it to roll out the F-117. Pyotr had championed the concept that visibility on radar was not purely based on the size of the aircraft but the angle at which the radar waves struck the edges. Engineers and scientists worked on this concept and produced the F-117 that was kept secret from the world for five years. The plane had an unusual shape and looked more like a large ugly eagle, but it was a versatile plane, and the Russians or anybody else had nothing like it.

First ever stealth fighter

The plane was inducted into the USAF, but it had limited speed and range. Its speed of about 600 mph and a range of 1070 miles.

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It was thus a plane for use in a tactical battle to take out enemy ground positions. The plane did not have much weaponry but carried two massive  2000 pound laser guided bombs. The Night Hawk, however, had one significant advantage, it could evade all conventional radar systems as it was almost difficult to detect.

The plane was used with some success in the first Iraq war and also in the civil war in Yugoslavia. Only one plane was lost due to a missile attack in Yugoslavia, but the pilot was rescued. Parts of the plane landed up in Moscow and China where they studied the concept of the aircraft. Each plane supplied to the USAF cost 111 million dollars.

The Russians caught on to the stealth technology and with Putin as president a confrontation once again looms ahead.  This has led to the development of the F-22 Raptor. This plane has a speed that is three times the Night Hawk and a decision was taken to phase out the Night Hawk after 25 years of service in favor of the Raptor. The F-117 will forever be remembered as the first stealth fighter ever built. It was a product of the cold war and unfortunately the confrontation with Russia has not ended as Putin is again flexing his muscles.