Once Top Secret U.S. Stealth Plane Arrives at Castle Air Museum. 'It's Really an Honor'

Aug. 1, 2022

Jul. 29—One of the U.S. military's most closely-guarded Cold War secrets now sits in a hangar here in Merced County, and will eventually be on display for the general public.

On Friday just after midnight, Castle Air Museum in Atwater received the special delivery in the form of a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft.

The aircraft was transported from Tonopah Test Range in Nevada to the museum's restoration hangar at Castle Commerce Center. California and Nevada Highway Patrol officers escorted the sleek aircraft as it made its way to Merced County.

What's so special about the F-117?

The Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk was a single-seat, twin-engine, stealth surface-attack aircraft. One of the world's first operational stealth aircraft, the attack jet could evade detection by radar and other sensors, according to the aerospace company that built the plane, Lockheed Martin.

It was used in secrecy for six years before the U.S. Air Force admitted the plane's existence in 1988, according to The National Interest.

"This is one of the aircraft involved in Operation Desert Storm and we believe very firmly it was in the initial attack on the first night in Baghdad," said Joe Pruzzo, executive director of Castle Air Museum.

"That's what the mission was, in that it would come in at night, and it had the radar signature of maybe a baby sparrow," Pruzzo added.

"It would do what it had to do and take out important command and control sites and blind the opposing military forces. It took out a lot of essential facilities and it allowed our other aircraft to come in and get safely out."

According to Pruzzo the National Museum of the Air Force reached out to Castle Air Museum four years ago to ask if it would be interested in a F-117 Nighthawk to display.

Castle Air Museum was one of the first four museums selected to display the aircraft and the only museum in Northern California. There were only 59 F-117 Nighthawk planes produced.

"We're thrilled," Pruzzo said. "It's really an honor that the museum was initially picked for this incredible offer. It really shows the level that the museum's stature is at across the nation. Only a few museums were picked at all."

It cost Castle Air Museum $33,000 to transport the aircraft, with all of the funds coming through donations.

The museum will now begin the process of restoring the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, which Pruzzo estimates will cost about $75,000 and may take about a year before it finds its place in the museum.

"We will restore it as authentically as possible and it will be a chance for people to get up close and personal and actually look at one in a museum," Pruzzo said.

The museum will also use money through donations to fund the restoration process of the F-117 Nighthawk.

People interested in donating can the call Castle Air Museum at 209-723-2178 ext. 304 or donate to the Castle Air Museum Foundation online on PayPal.

This story was originally published July 29, 2022 3:49 PM.


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