A Look Back to the People
Making the F-117 the World's Greatest
First Flight Remembrances from Dr. Eldred D. Merkl
Tack Nix brought a number of pins/buttons to the first flight location and passed them around. The buttons read: “I work for the Merk”. Hal Farley wore one during his first flight and upon his return, scratched 6/18/81 on the back of his button and gave it to me along with a copy of the flight log of the first flight (14 minutes long).
Another thing I remember about first flight was this. I was supposed to go to Nellis AFB with first flight film for hand delivery back to Washington. I had a security escort and rules then were that program material had to be transported on a military airplane. Due to the uncertain of the first flight date, we could not schedule our own military aircraft. The Pentagon had given me a code to use, which would allow me to commandeer the first military plane through Nellis AFB. The first plane happened to be a T-39 carrying a 3-Star General and his Staff to Wright-Patterson AFB. I was in civilian clothes so the General could not tell that I was only a Colonel. After I took his airplane, he approached me asking my rank. I told him I was a Colonel. He replied: “Colonel, I have enough space on my plane to carry you as far as Dayton, OH; however your partner will need to find alternate transportation”. I then stated: “General, there is enough room on my plane for you, but not your Staff, and our first stop will be Andrews AFB near Washington”. After the General made some phone calls trying to find out what was happening, we departed for Washington. Needless to say, the General was not happy but no one could tell him what was going on.
These pictures are from the 4450th at Tonopah, NV circa 1992.
Picture celebrating the 100th TAC sortie at Tonapah in August 1984. The 4450th TAC group personnel shown were from maintenance and OPS Support. Doug Robinson is in the Camo's. To his right, in the flight suit is ADO Pete Bernstien. LTC Sandy Sharpe is under the roller wheel on the door (back row). Maj. Bob Williams was the 100th sortie pilot. His crew chief, Tsgt Shirley is holding the sign. Robin Wohnsigl is the last person on the far right.
Origins on the Nighthawk Patch from Sandy Sharpe
When we first came to Nellis in the '79/80 timeframe, we were in trailers on the flight line for the A-7 ops and had a concrete building up in the weapons storage area. We talked about having a patch for added cover as most "normal" units always had patches. At the time we were telling folks we were doing "avionics testing" and we flew a lot at night. We always carried an ECM pod. So it was assumed we were doing night "electronic" avionics testing. I liked/picked the name "nighthawks" and Col. Bob Jackson, first 4450th/CC, agreed. So I went to a large Webster's dictionary to see if there was a picture of a nighthawk. There was, and Msgt Hal Coleman, NCOIC Intell, actually used the picture in the dictionary to draw up the first patch (his drawing is below). We added a ruby eye to denote our use of the laser in the F117. The stiletto in the hawks mouth was both for stealth and we thought of our mission as that of a single ship "assassin" at the time. The hawk also carries a bomb in one claw to indicate we had a lethal mission and lightening bolts in the other claw to highlight the "electronic" part of the cover story. We sent this original drawing to General Creech, TAC/CC, and he said he thought the hawk looked too much like a dove and had his public affairs artist redraw the hawk to it's present configuration. One other interesting part of this story is that in that same Webster's dictionary, the definition said the nighthawk was also known as a "goatsucker". Naturally, Al Whitley and Denny Larson, with their clever wit, jumped all over that name and adopted it as the name of the school house unit at another location. Don't know who drew up their patch; but, that was it's origins.
If you have any pictures from the past, or great stories that you would like to share, please email or snail mail to us.