When I visited the USA in 1998 as part of the air team we were quartered at one of the USAF bases. At one end (that area was kept off bounds) we could see dark bat shaped planes. They were part of the secret arsenal of the USAF and from my knowledge; I knew that this was the famous stealth fighter. It was given the number as F-115 and called Night Hawk. The plane at that time was the most advanced in the world and nobody had anything like it.
The Night Hawk cost 111 million dollars apiece and was discontinued in the USAF after 25 years and replaced with the F-22 or Raptor. Never the less the F-117 was something unique and incorporated the stealth technology. This technology was published in a research paper presented in 1964 by a Russian scientist named Pykr. The Russians ignored this paper but the engineers at Lockheed studied the paper in detail. In effect, the Prof has stated that a plane could be made that could allow the radar waves to bounce off the plane and thus render the aircraft invisible to detection by radar. it could only be sighted visually.
It meant making a plane with an unconventional design > it had to have angles of construction, that were of a particular slant so that the radar waves could bounce off. The plane thus had the look of a bat and was christened the Night Hawk. The Night Hawk first flew in 1981 and a few years later was inducted into the USAF. The Night Hawk was a revolutionary design and for 5 years the Americans kept it secret before the world came to know of this unique plane. The Russians rued the development of the F-117 and wondered how they had missed the bus.
The Night Hawk was put into operational use and used extensively in the air bombardment of Iraq, during the 1992 US-Iraq war. The plane despite a slow speed of some 660km/hr could not be detected. It had limited range of about 1000 km and thus for a target it needed mid-air refueling. It carried no defensive armaments relying on its ability to attack a target undetected. It carried 2 x 1000 il laser guided bombs that could penetrate even 12ft of concrete and was thus a force multiplier. The Russians were however hard at work to perfect their own stealth fighter and the US the need of another plane was felt. Research started and this led to the led to the Raptor, which had a longer range and flew at 3 times the speed of the Night Hawk.
The F-115 remained the only stealth fighter in the world during the days of the cold war and even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the plane was the mainstay of US offensive action. It was used extensively in Afghanistan when the USA mounted an invasion and no plane was lost despite missiles with the Taliban. It hastened the defeat of the Taliban by a relentless bombardment with laser guided bombs. The plane was also used in operations in Kosovo and Yugoslavia.
The Russians were wary of the Night Hawk and later they did develop their own stealth fighter, but one wonders whether the Russian plane is as good as the latest American plane with stealth technology the Raptor.