Nighthawk celebrates 25 years, 250K flying hours

A large crowd watched as 25 F-117A aircraft pass over the flag pole at Heritage Park Oct. 27, 2006, for the Silver Stealth celebration at Holloman. The event was designed to celebrate the 25th year of the "hopeless diamond" and the 250,000 flying hour.

A large crowd watched as 25 F-117A aircraft pass over the flag pole at Heritage Park Oct. 27, 2006, for the Silver Stealth celebration at Holloman. The event was designed to celebrate the 25th year of the "hopeless diamond" and the 250,000 flying hour.

Retired Gen. Lloyd "Fig" Newton relates some of his memories of the F-117A during the Silver Stealth celebration at Holloman. General Newton was the base commander when the famous first generation stealth fighter arrived in the Tularosa Basin.

Retired Gen. Lloyd "Fig" Newton relates some of his memories of the F-117A during the Silver Stealth celebration at Holloman. General Newton was the base commander when the famous first generation stealth fighter arrived in the Tularosa Basin.

Silver Stealth celebration

Silver Stealth celebration

HOLLOMAN AFB, N.M. -- An estimated 1,000 military members, dependents, civilians and retirees stood with their eyes to the sky Friday as 25 Nighthawks, the largest F-117A fly-over ever, flew over Heritage Park in commemoration and celebration of not only 25 years of Nighthawk history but 250,000 flying hours as well. 

Members of the F-117A community, past and present, were on hand to honor the Stealth's rich history. 

"This is a strategic weapon that really reshaped how the Air Force looked at strategic warfare," said Lt. Col. Chris Knehans, 7th Fighter Squadron commander. "It doesn't matter what defenses you put up, how deep you try to hide or how much you surround yourself with collateral damage, this airplane will come and get you." 

This fact has made the Nighthawk a vital part of the Air Force's various campaigns since the aircraft's introduction. 

It has been in service in Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia as part of such operations as Desert Storm, Allied Force, Just Cause and Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
For some, however, the reunion was bittersweet. 

"For me, this is a reunion of bringing it all back together," said Gen. (ret.) Lloyd "Fig" Newton, first F-117 wing commander and guest speaker. "I'm excited on one hand but a little sad over the retirement.The F-117s still have a little life left and have done great things for our nation. Whenever its nation called, the F-117 answered, providing capabilities that had never been known before. If we needed the door kicked in, the Stealth was the one to do it. Never before had such an aircraft existed. I'm happy to have had an opportunity to share in an experience so few have had the chance to take part in."
According to Col. (ret.) Klaus Klause, former Stealth pilot, the Silver Stealth celebration marked a milestone for the F-117A. 

"This aircraft has done so much over the past 25 years," he said. "The F-117 is the tip of the spear ... it still is. I'm proud to be a former Stealth pilot." 

Some of the Bandits, or F-117 pilots took the opportunity to not only reunite themselves with old friends, but acquaint themselves with the new generation Bzandits as well. 

"For me this is a great opportunity to come here and see the guys that are flying now," said Col. Steve Charles, who was chosen to participate in the original unveiling of the Stealth. "I think this program has the finest people in the Air Force; just being included in this group is wonderful. The Stealth has changed history, and how many people get to be a part of something that's really made a positive influence in the nation." 

According to Brig. Gen. David Goldfein, 49th Fighter Wing commander, while Silver Stealth is a culmination of 25 years, the F-117A mission still continues on. 

"We have not been relieved of our combat tasking," he said. "The F-117A fleet is full up for any contingency until completely retired, and I believe our readiness was demonstrated today by putting half our fleet in the air. This is a clear a testament to our capabilities." 

The general said the day was also a tribute to the families of those who'd been involved in the Stealth program. 

"For many years the program was classified and there were spouses and children who had fathers and mothers working in the program and they could never know about it. This ceremony is a tribute to them as well."