Once top-secret US plane to join collection at Castle Air Museum in California

An F-117 Nighthawk flies over the Nevada desert in 2003.


By SHAWN JANSEN | Merced Sun-Star | Published: January 28, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — Another rare plane is about to join the collection at Castle Air Museum — and it's one that definitely will be a draw for military and tech enthusiasts.

Castle Air Museum in Atwater, Calif., recently announced a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Aircraft is expected to arrive in June, and will be put on display.

The Merced County museum will be one of a handful of museums in the country that will have a Nighthawk on display. There were only 59 of the aircraft built.

"It's a signal to us and it's a signal to our community and region that we were chosen by the Air Force to display this aircraft," said Joe Pruzzo, who is the Castle Air Museum CEO.

"It's very significant as far as the hierarchy of museums in our nation. It's bragging rights for Atwater and Merced County that we have this in our own back yard."

Pruzzo says the Nighthawk was one of the most top secret airplanes the United States has ever built.

According to Airforce-technology.com, the Nighthawk was first flown in 1981, but it was not until 1988 that its existence was publicly announced.

The mission of the aircraft is to penetrate dense threat environments and attack high-value targets with high accuracy.

The Nighthawk was used during Desert Storm, plus in Afghanistan and during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"The airplane was the first not to be seen on radar," Pruzzo said. "If it was seen on radar, it was a very small return signature."

The Nighthawk isn't the first big "get." In 2013 the museum obtained an Air Force One Douglas VC-9 that flew presidents, vice presidents and first ladies for 30 years.

There's also a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird near the museum's entrance — a sleek spy plane that once was a prime tool used by the U.S. military to gather intelligence.

Pruzzo says to his knowledge, Castle Air Museum will be the only aviation museum that has a Nighthawk on display from Southern California up to the Pacific Northwest.

Pruzzo says it will cost the museum approximately $33,000 to pay for the restoration, transportation and maintenance of the aircraft.

People who are interested in donating money toward the cost of bringing the aircraft to Castle Air Museum can go online to the museum's website at www.castleairmuseum.org.

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