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John A. Weeks III
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Aviation History And Aircraft Photography

Daylight Stealth

Airplane Photo

  • Type:   Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk
  • Venue:   Freedom Ridge
  • Location:   Rachel, Nevada
  • Date:   Late 1980's
  • Camera:   Minolta 7000i w/150-300mm Zoom
  • Film:   Fuji ASA 100 Color Print Film
  • Full Size Photo (~250kb)

This is one of the first known photos of an F-117 stealth fighter flying during the daytime. At the time, the F-117 was public, but it had not yet flown at airshows, and was still being flown mostly at night.

If you want to see advanced aircraft, you have to spend time and hang around the places that they fly. This includes Edwards, Nellis, the Nellis Range (Groom Lake, TTR, Area 51), and Holloman (in New Mexico). Since access to these facilities is restricted, you end up having to hang around outside, or find vantage points where you can see what is going on. One such vantage point for Groom Lake is Freedom Ridge, a mountain top near Rachel, Nevada.

I had made the hike up the trail to Freedom Ridge just hoping to get a view of the base at Area 51. This was before the satellite photos were publicly available on the Internet, so there was still some dispute if Area 51 even existed. While on the trail, a F-117 flew past in broad daylight. This was unexpected, and I was surprised enough that I was only able to get a few non-blurry photos. The sun angle was near perfect, which highlighted a number of features on the plane. The insignia and pitot tubes are clearly visible. The exhaust ports on the rear are shown, which is something that the USAF still considered to be secret at the time (in fact, the exhausts are covered on the F-117 at the USAF Museum in Dayton). In blowing up the original negative, I could clearly read the shoulder patch on the pilot's uniform, which demonstrates the impressive clarity of this hand-held zoom lens shot.

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Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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