Warplanes: August 22, 2004


An F-117 stealth fighter has been flying day and night missions with a new two-tone gray paint job, similar to what is used on the F-22. Previously, the official F-117  paint scheme has been all black, to match its initial role as a nighttime-only attack aircraft. But Air Force officials want to test a different paint scheme that will allow use of the fighter around the clock. On a clear day with plenty of light, the original black scheme clearly stands out against a blue sky or white clouds, making it easier to find visually not a good thing if you want to fly during daylight hours. There is a suspicion that the all-black scheme may have contributed to the shoot down of an F-117 over Serbia in March 1999, its jet-black outline standing out against a dull gray sky with light from ground fire reflecting off the clouds and enhancing its silhouette. 

The test aircraft, nicknamed "Dragon," has now been dubbed the "Gray Dragon." If the gray pattern is successful, the current fleet of fifty-five F-117 will be repainted in the two-tone scheme. It won't be the first time the F-117 has operated in different colors. During the mid-90s, the Air Force experimented with a camouflage scheme that was a gray scheme with swaths of brown and blue to break up the shape, but someone high in the chain of command allegedly demanded an all-black color scheme for the fleet. Doug Mohney.


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