Two F-117 Stealth Jets Have Just Deployed To Fresno Airport, California

F-117 Fresno
The two F-117s that landed at Fresno on Sept. 13, 2021. (All images: Sean Towe)

The two F-117 Nighthawk jets, arrived at Fresno Airport, where they are guests of the 144th Fighter Wing.

On Sept. 13, 2021, two F-117 Nighthawk stealth jets made a surprise visit to Fresno Yosemite International Airport, a joint civil-military airport in Fresno, in central California. “They flew in as KNIGHT01. Not sure about how long they will be here. They are currently guests of the 144th Fighter Wing” told us told us Sean Towe, who managed to take some shots of the two rare jets that suddenly became viral across social media.

Upon arrival, the two stealth jets taxied to the apron of the local based 144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, equipped with F-15C/D Eagles.

“I’m the Operations Supervisor for Fresno airports (KFAT). We’re a shared use with the 144th Fighter Wing so jets are abundant but these were a special sight since they are so rare now. Plus they’ve been one of my favorites since I was a kid.”

Sean is an avid aviation photographer too and his Instagram page, @aviatography, shows several interesting subjects. However, this time he wasn’t expecting such unique visitors. “I normally shoot with a Nikon D610 but since I didn’t know it was happening I used my iPhone XS Max” he said.

“One has a red TR and the other a white TR. And the numbers on the nose gear were gone; other than that, I couldn’t tell.”

It’s not a secret that the U.S. Air Force is still flying the F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft at Tonopah Test Range (TTR) although the iconic Black Jet was officially retired from active service in 2008.

As explained in a detailed story, back in 2014, after a few videos and photographs had already appeared online, the U.S. Air Force admitted that the Nighthawk was kept in a “Type 1000” storage at TTR which meant that the type is had to be maintained until called into active service. Desert conditions of Nevada are perfect for maintaining the stealth jets in pristine conditions (due to the low level of humidity and hence, lower probability of corrosion), hence the reason to operate the enigmatic aircraft from TTR.

After several appearances in the skies across Nevada, less than one year ago, on Oct. 20, 2020, two F-117s, once again using radio callsign “KNIGHT”, made a surprise visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. This is what we wrote back then:

“We don’t know the reason why the F-117s moved from their usual homebase at Tonopah Test Range, Nevada, to Miramar, even though they are probably going to be involved in some exercise in SOCAL playing the aggressor role, to develop anti-stealth technologies and tactics. Indeed, as explained in various articles, while some of the F-117s retired in 2008 and kept in a “Type 1000” storage at Tonopah Test Range have been disassembled before being transferred to museums around the U.S., sightings of F-117s flying over Nevada and California have continued. We have reported them in 2018, in 2019 and also 2020. After all, the F-117s are not completely retired, quite the contrary; they are increasinly becoming less “shy” appearing over the skies of LA area in plain daylight, taking part in Red Flag missions or operating for some reason from the base outside San Diego.”

Dealing with the latest deployment, The War Zone has reached out to the 144th FW, that told them that “their arrival was fully planned and that they would be training with the Wing’s F-15C/D Eagles over the coming days.” This is extremely interesting because, as TWZ’s Tyler Rogoway highlighted in his story, this is the first time the U.S. Air Force acknowledges the type’s aggressors role and involvement in dissimilar air combat training with other USAF units.

Overall, it’s a very good news, since we are going to watch the F-117 flying for some more time. And maybe one day, one or two Nighthawks will even take part in a full fledged air show!

H/T to Sean Towe for allowing us to post his shots along with his first hand account of the unique sighting!


David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

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