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'An extremely important piece' — Stealth Fighter headed to SAC Museum
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'An extremely important piece' — Stealth Fighter headed to SAC Museum

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F-1117 Nighthawk

A U.S. Air Force F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter flies over Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in 2002, six years before the jets were retired.

One of the most iconic military aircraft of the late 20th century — the so-called Stealth Fighter — will land this spring at the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum near Ashland.

And when it goes on display next year, the radar-resistant F-117 Nighthawk will help put a bookend on the museum’s Cold War collection, which includes the conflict’s early icons —  the U2 spy plane and supersonic SR-71.

“This really is, for us, a major part of telling the stealth story that started in the Cold War,” John Lefler Jr., the museum’s marketing manager, said Monday. “Short of saying this is the Holy Grail, this is an extremely important piece for us to have.”

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The Nebraska-bound Nighthawk, one of 64 built for the Air Force by Lockheed, never saw combat, but it was put to work by pilots testing updated aircraft systems, he said.

The single-seaters could reach high-altitude cruising speeds of more than 620 mph and were known for their distinct shapes, low profiles and flat, radar-absorbing aluminum body panels. They were used in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, later saw service in Iraq and Afghanistan and were retired by the Air Force in 2008.

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In early March, a team of museum staffers will travel to the Tonopah Test Range northwest of Las Vegas, where the Nighthawks are in storage. They’ll escort the semi-trailer carrying the aircraft — one of just four Stealth Fighters given to private museums — back to the SAC Museum, where it will be parked first in the restoration bay.

Volunteers and staff will spend the next year fabricating replacement parts — the leading and trailing edges of its wings, sheet metal for its nose, engine inlet grids — before the museum can put the Nighthawk on public display, which could be sometime in the summer of 2022, Lefler said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter

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