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Last Updated:  Friday, 7 February, 2003, 17:43 GMT
Fact file: F-117A Nighthawk

The F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter is designed to be virtually impossible to detect by radar and difficult to see with the naked eye.

The single-seater was the first aircraft using this stealth technology to become operational.

The outlandishly-shaped aircraft is coated in radar-absorbent material and covered with small flat surfaces which reflect radar signals in many directions.

A modified exhaust system reduces the tell-tale heat trails that missiles home in on.

Although technically classed as a fighter, its deployment to date has utilised its strength in bombing targets in highly-defended or densely populated areas.

The aircraft played a key part in the 1991 Gulf War. F-117As accounted for only 2.5% of the total coalition fighter force, but carried out a third of the sorties on the first night of the Desert Storm campaign.

They were the only US and coalition aircraft used to strike targets in central Baghdad.

F-117As normally carry two 2,000-pound (907 kilograms) laser-guided bombs.

Most information about the aircraft is classified but experts say it is unstable during flight, which has earned it the name of the "Wobbly Goblin".

Compared with other fighters, the F-117A is slow and flies below the sound barrier.

It is a twin-engine aircraft, is able to re-fuel in mid-air and holds the record for the longest single-seater fighter flight - 18.5 hours.

Developed in the seventies by Lockheed, the aircraft was first flown by the US Air Force in 1981, but until 1989 all flights took place at night to keep the weapon secret.

It was first used during the US invasion of Panama in 1989.

During Nato's campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999 an F-117A fighter was shot down outside Belgrade.

F-117A Nighthawk
Crew: 1
Main weapons: PGMs; JDAM; AGM-65 Maverick; AGM-88 HARM, and possibly AIM-9 Sidewinder
Max speed: High subsonic
Length: 65.9ft (20.1m)
Wingspan: 42.3 ft (13.2m)
Weight: 52,500 pounds (23,625 kg)
Range: Unlimited (with air refuelling)
Cost: $45 million each
Source: USAF; Jane's Defence







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