Photos have emerged showing that the retired F-117 Nighthawk is still active 12 years after it was officially retired, with experts speculating that the Air Force may use the stealth fighters as mock enemy combatants in pilot training.

Two F-117s using the radio call sign ‘KNIGHT’ made a surprise visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on Tuesday, landing at the California base around 5.30pm, according to radio traffic reported by The War Zone.

Bystander images captured the stealth jets landing outside San Diego, offering tantalizing clues about their presence at the air base.

The F-117s appear to have a fresh coat of radar-absorbent material, and tail markings of ‘TR’ apparently indicate they are based at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, where the Nighthawk fleet was mothballed after it was retired in 2008.

Photos have emerged showing that the retired F-117 Nighthawk is still active 12 years after it was officially retired, with experts speculating that the Air Force may use the stealth fighters as mock enemy combatants

Photos have emerged showing that the retired F-117 Nighthawk is still active 12 years after it was officially retired, with experts speculating that the Air Force may use the stealth fighters as mock enemy combatants

Two F-117s using the radio call sign 'KNIGHT' made a surprise visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on Tuesday, landing at the California base around 5.30pm

Two F-117s using the radio call sign ‘KNIGHT’ made a surprise visit to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on Tuesday, landing at the California base around 5.30pm

The F-117s appear to have a fresh coat of radar-absorbent material, and tail markings of 'TR' apparently indicate they are based at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, where the Nighthawk fleet was mothballed

The F-117s appear to have a fresh coat of radar-absorbent material, and tail markings of ‘TR’ apparently indicate they are based at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, where the Nighthawk fleet was mothballed

Writing for The Aviation, military aviation expert David Cenciotti said that the Nighthawks spotted at Miramar were ‘probably going to be involved in some exercise in SOCAL playing the aggressor role, to develop anti-stealth technologies and tactics.’

It is possible that the outdated stealth technology of the F-117 may approximate the capabilities of Chinese or Russian stealth tech. 

Since Tuesday, multiple bystanders have captured images and video of the two F-117s operating near Miramar.

On Thursday, plan spotters reported that the two jets took off and operated over the Pacific before returning east to the desert, without landing at Miramar. 

Nicknamed the ‘Wobblin Goblin’ due to its alleged instability at low speeds, the F-117 is commonly referred to as a ‘stealth fighter,’ although it is strictly a ground-attack aircraft.

Bystander images captured the stealth jets landing outside San Diego, offering tantalizing clues about their presence

Bystander images captured the stealth jets landing outside San Diego, offering tantalizing clues about their presence

Since Tuesday, multiple bystanders have captured images and video of the two F-117s operating near Miramar

Since Tuesday, multiple bystanders have captured images and video of the two F-117s operating near Miramar

Nicknamed the 'Wobblin Goblin' due to its alleged instability at low speeds, the F-117 is commonly referred to as a 'stealth fighter,' although it is strictly a ground-attack aircraft

Nicknamed the ‘Wobblin Goblin’ due to its alleged instability at low speeds, the F-117 is commonly referred to as a ‘stealth fighter,’ although it is strictly a ground-attack aircraft

The first operational aircraft designed around stealth technology, the Nighthawk had its maiden flight in 1981 at Groom Lake, Nevada —  better known as Area 51.

It wasn’t until 1988 that the F-117 program was publicly acknowledged, and not until 1990 that the jet made its first official public appearance. 

The F-117 was widely publicized for its role in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, and took part in the conflict in Yugoslavia, where the only Nighthawk ever to be lost in combat was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Although officially retired 2008, part of the F-117 fleet remained intact, and it has been reported that four F-117s were secretly deployed to the Middle East in 2016.

The first operational aircraft designed around stealth technology, the Nighthawk had its maiden flight in 1981 at Groom Lake, Nevada -- better known as Area 51. Above, an F-117 is seen in a training run

The first operational aircraft designed around stealth technology, the Nighthawk had its maiden flight in 1981 at Groom Lake, Nevada — better known as Area 51. Above, an F-117 is seen in a training run

Photos obtained by DailyMail.com earlier this year show Tonopah Test Range Airport, located deep in the massive Nevada Test and Training Range, where the F-117 fleet was mothballed

Photos obtained by DailyMail.com earlier this year show Tonopah Test Range Airport, located deep in the massive Nevada Test and Training Range, where the F-117 fleet was mothballed

The secretive Tonopah Test Range Airport has rarely been seen by anyone outside of the military. The hangars seen above could be used to store the F-117s that are still in operation

The secretive Tonopah Test Range Airport has rarely been seen by anyone outside of the military. The hangars seen above could be used to store the F-117s that are still in operation

After operating in Miramar, the two F-117s returned to the desert on Thursday, possibly heading for Toponah (above)

After operating in Miramar, the two F-117s returned to the desert on Thursday, possibly heading for Toponah (above)

The locations of Area 51 as well as the Tonopah Test Range Airport are seen within the Nevada Test and Training Range

The locations of Area 51 as well as the Tonopah Test Range Airport are seen within the Nevada Test and Training Range

Periodic sightings of the stealth jet have continued in the U.S. In February 2019, an F-117 was observed flying in the vicinity of Edwards Air Force Base, escorted by two F-16 Fighting Falcons. 

An F-117 was also photographed in 2019 near Panamint Valley, California carrying unit markings previously unassociated with the aircraft – a band on the tail bearing the name Dark Knights.

In July 2019, one Nighthawk was spotted flying above Death Valley, trailing behind a KC-135R Stratotanker, painted in aggressor camouflage.

In March 2020, a spectator recorded an F-117 flying through Rainbow Canyon in Death Valley, the area also known as Star Wars Canyon.  

source: dailymail.co.uk

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