What is Operation Nighthawk Landing?

Operation Nighthawk Landing is a Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® project to permanently install an F-117 Nighthawk for public display at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. The project was made possible by the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force’s permanent loan of F-117 #803 nicknamed “Unexpected Guest” to the Reagan Foundation.

Since receiving the aircraft fuselage in August, our team of Skunks has been hard at work restoring Unexpected Guest for its new home. 

About the F-117 Nighthawk

The World’s First Operational Stealth Aircraft

The F-117 Nighthawk was developed in response to the urgent national need for a fighter jet that could operate a mission undetected by the enemy. In true Skunk Works fashion, it was developed rapidly and in complete secrecy.

Though far from the traditional, sleek aircraft designs preferred by Skunk Works founder Kelly Johnson, the F-117’s unique design is what enabled it to reflect radar waves. The angular panels bolstered by an external coating of radar-absorbent material allowed the aircraft to be nearly invisible.

In the summer of 1975, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) held a “pole-off” competition at which the Skunk Work’s design demonstrated unmatched low observability and won Lockheed Martin Skunk Works the contract for Have Blue, the stealth demonstrator that led to the F-117 Nighthawk.

DARPA awarded the Skunk Works with the contract for the Nighthawk less than a year after Have Blue’s successful first flight in 1977, and a legendary partnership between the Skunk Works team and the U.S. Air Force quickly made F-117 production a reality. The first flight took place in 1981 just 31 months after the contract award, and deliveries began the following year.

The aircraft achieved initial operational capability in 1983 but was kept under the strictest of secrecy for many years. It wasn’t until 1988 that the program was publicly acknowledged, and not until 1990 that it made its first formal public appearance. By this time, the aircraft had been operational for seven years. The viewing at Nellis AFB was attended by thousands who longed for more than the fuzzy, low-quality image of the F-117 featured on the May 1989 cover of Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Though retired by the Air Force in 2008, the F-117 is an aircraft that continues to fascinate and inspire. It paved the way for the future of stealth technology, and it makes us wonder just how much further we can continue pushing the limits of what’s possible.

Operation Nighthawk Landing Media Kit

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® restores F-117 Nighthawk #803, callsign "Unexpected Guest," in partnership with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California for permanent display.

Photos of the Restoration Project