To some in aviation the sight of a stealth fighter being chopped to pieces is probably on a par with the financial community’s shock at the unthinkable disappearance of Wall Street’s banking and investment icons. But on 26 August that’s exactly what happened to ‘Article 784’, the fifth full-scale development Lockheed Martin F-117A, at the US Air Force’s Plant 42 site in Palmdale, Calif.
After the cleverly designed low-observable leading edge features and radar absorbent materials were carefully removed, the scrapping process became brutally simple. A grapple-equipped Caterpillar vehicle rolled up to the F-117A and quickly reduced it to a pile of junk.
The exercise was apparently a practice run for finding the best way of scrapping an F-117A, and is therefore a gloomy bellwether for the remaining fleet now stored in the Tonopah Test Range, Nevada. Despite some discussion about maintaining the fleet for possible future use, the clinical destruction of 784 tends to support the view that this is highly unlikely. Stealth watchers say the clues were already there as the Tonopah hangars are not weather–proof, and that tooling has been destroyed along with many spare parts.
Another sad view of the remains of 784 at Palmdale.
As for fans of stealth survivors, it is not all bad news. A sister ship to the ill-fated F-117A, Article 783, still resides unmolested in the Blackbird Airpark at Palmdale, while others are preserved at the National Museum of the USAF, Nellis and Holloman AFBs.