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The F-117 Nighthawk was deactivated three years after the introduction of the F-22 Raptor in 2005. However, just two years later, spottings of the stealthy bomber became more frequent. Why is that?
It’s because it was never retired, just deactivated. Of course, the aircraft isn’t expected to join the frontlines. Instead, the Nighthawk is used as an aggressor aircraft in USAF exercises like Red Flag.
Nighthawks have almost the same radar cross-section as the F-22 and B-2 bomber, making them the perfect “enemy” in training exercises. In addition, the Air Force might also be testing out new technologies on its airframe.
A few F-117s and F-35s were spotted last year with mirror-like skin, which may be an experimental treatment to reduce their infrared signature further.