The Air Zoo Aerospace and Science Museum has been looking for sponsors for their newest exhibit of an F-117 Night Hawk, which was the worlds first stealth fighter.
The Air Zoo will be the first non-government museum to exhibit the historic aircraft. Taking its first flight in 1981 the Night Hawk's revolutionary design helped ensure the United States' air superiority for 27 years before being retired by the Air Force in 2008.
"It was designed in order to not be detected by ground based radar, so ultimately the design itself with all of the different facets of the air frame kind of looks like a diamond. When you think about a diamond, how a diamond reflects light in so many different ways, well that is how the F-117 was designed to deflect radar waves all over the place so the don't go back down and be detected down on the ground," Troy Thrash, president and CEO of the AirZoo, said. "So this was a really important advancement that allowed this this airplane to be so very successful in so many really important campaigns."
The aircraft was arrives sometime late this year, it will look a lot different from the iconic images from the first Gulf War, where the stealth fighter earned high praise after flying in nearly 13,000 combat sorties with out a single combat loss.
That's because many of the F-117's technologies are still top secret so the plane is being stripped of its most sensitive components at Tonopah Test Range in Nevada before delivery, which means a huge restoration project for the Air Zoo.
"Even the paint itself is top secret in it's formulation and design so all of the paint will be blasted off. So instead of seeing the black, that cool black of the Night Hawk it's gonna be a nice shiny silver. So really great work for our entire community and certainly those volunteers at the air zoo to take part in restoring this important airplane," Thrash said.
Thrash said that even the exact shape of the aircraft was classified so many panels have been removed, including the "leading edge" or very front of the aircraft's wing.
"We're going to have to recreate those because those are really the first defense in terms of that stealth technology," Thrash said.
The huge restoration comes with a big price tag so the Air Zoo has been looking for sponsors to help pay for all the materials and equipment needed to restore the plane to its former glory.
"We're talking about six figures in terms of transporting the F-117 on a couple of flat bed trucks from Nevada to here but then certainly the restoration itself," Thrash said. "We are looking for opportunities for support from across our community to do this important work."
Work that helps continue the Air Zoo's mission to educated and inspire the public.
Once the Night Hawk arrives it would be housed in the Air Zoo's restoration campus behind the main campus, where they are already restoring a FM-2 Wildcat and a Douglas SBD Dauntless, both recovered from the bottom of Lake Michigan.
"Doing this restoration, and having young people not only see the restoration happen, but come and work on these airplanes gives them just the most amazingly immersive opportunity to be these mechanics and technicians to work on airplanes that have flown in World War II and then of course all the way up to the F-117. So very inspirational," Trash said, "There are so many companies in this area that want to hire young people with technical skills , with problem solving skills, communication skills and that's what we try to foster here with this restoration program."
Thrash said that the Air Zoo already has a few very special volunteers contact him.
"There was a gentleman from California that was a F-117 mechanic who said I want to come out to the Air Zoo and work with your volunteers for a couple of weeks to teach them about how we did what we did," Thrash said.
He said they also were contacted by the daughter of one of the original designers of the aircraft who wants to help preserve her fathers story along side the story of the F-117 Night Hawk, helping complete the final exhibit when the plane is fully restored.
All the Air Zoo can do is excitedly wait and prepare.
"Of course we are going to have a lot of fun with it because we've already talked about maybe we should tell everyone that the airplane it's already here, it's just very stealthy so it's right back there," said Thrash, "But it's going to be really cool when it arrives because of how it is going to look and the opportunity for us to start planning right away to work on this airplane because so very few have had the opportunity to do that."