F-117 Site History
Burbank, Ca, the Lockheed Skunk Works (PS-11) was
the birthplace of the F-117 aircraft.
gain of valuable engineering data during the Have Blue flight test
to a Full Scale Development (FSD) decision by the Air Force. A contract
awarded to the Lockheed Skunk Works on November 16, 1978. The original
for five FSD test aircraft and 15 production articles. The initial
Aircraft 780, was delivered 28 April 1981 and subsequent production
varying quantities yielded a total of 64 aircraft built and delivered
June 27, 1990. As of May 2001, 51 production and 3 FSD test aircraft
Streamlined management by
Systems Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, in close coordination with
Works, combined breakthrough stealth technology with concurrent
production. The result of this effort, shrouded in secrecy rivaling
that of the
Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, was a declaration of
Operational Capability (IOC) after delivery of the fourteenth F-117 on
28, 1983. Incredibly, IOC occurred in just under five years after
go-ahead, about half the time for most programs.
The Burbank plant was closed in
all manufacturing, engineering, and testing operations were transferred
Palmdale, CA, PS-77.
The United States Air Force, at the beginning of the F-117 program, had an acquisition command (Air Force Systems Command) and a support command (Air Force Logistics Command). The F-117 program was begun by AFSC using a carve-out System Program Office (SPO) established within the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. At an early date in the program’s development, AFLC was brought in by including a few individuals who worked in Detachment 6, 2762d Logistics Support Squadron (SP), under the HQ AFLC/AZ Special Projects Office, located at WPAFB, OH. Det 6, located at Norton AFB, CA, (PS-33) provided critical logistics support for the SR-71. Even though the SR-71 was no longer a strictly black program, Det 6 provided a handy cover for AFLC’s participation in the program, plus a pool of logistics specialists, with black program experience and the required security clearances, who were familiar with the Lockheed Skunk Works and who were located in close proximity to Lockheed’s Burbank plant.
was the senior member
of Det 6 who was chosen to form and lead the cadre of AFLC participants.
This cadre was begun in late 1978 or early 1979, and
individuals Don Wallace, Fred Grimm, Ken Kelly, and Hank Ortiz, plus
The Det 6 commander, Col Marcus Smith, provided
military oversight for
the cadre and handled protocol with AFLC and the host base.
Quite early in
the program, Program
Management Responsibility Transfer (PMRT) from the SPO to the Det
the engine, the ejection seat, the technical publications, and most of
support equipment, along with numerous other smaller items. As the
developed and the program grew, AFLC’s cadre grew and was designated
Special Projects Division of Det 6.
Finance, Administration, Item and Production Management, Technical
Management, Supply System development, and oversight of the contractor
operation were all accomplished within the Det.
In addition, an Air Force Audit Agency “black”
for all black programs in the area, was resident in the Detachment
Eventually, as IOC approached, the Special Projects
Division reached a
strength of approximately 90 individuals, with plans to expand to over
Detachment’s support to the program were unusual, generally caused by
level of security required. For
one, the operating base did not have Base Procurement, so all purchases
necessary to outfit and, in certain cases, sustain, an operating Air
(PS-66) were made by the Norton AFB Base Procurement office under the
of the Det. This
was in addition to
the depot level support provided.
Skunk Works initially furnished transportation for all material sent to
operating base, but the majority of this work transitioned to the Det
when Diablo Trucking Company was established as a secure carrier for
required careful attention in the Det was monitoring “white world”
developments on hardware that was also used in the F-117, especially
ejection seat. In
addition, Detachment people were instrumental in the
weapons certification work.
1983, the Commander of AFLC announced a desire for East Coast and West
black depots. McClellan
chosen as the West Coast depot, and the F-117 was chosen as the first
under its cognizance. Chuck
briefed an initial group of 14 individuals from McClellan, led by Lt
(Colonel select) Ed Moore, into the program in September 1983.
The black depot at Sacramento Air Logistics Center
(SALC) was designated
SM-ALC/QLA and was established on 1 October 1983.
On the same day, the Norton AFB contingent in Det 6
activated as Detachment 51 of SM-ALC, with the Detachment commander
Col Moore. At that
time, Col Moore
was chief of QLA and was also the F-117 System Program Director.
began a transitional period
for the AFLC participants in the program.
were soon made to move the support work to McClellan AFB (PS-88) and
Detachment, so a gradual transfer of responsibility was begun.
As SM-ALC/QLA’s capability grew and as Detachment
for other jobs, work was transferred to McClellan AFB employees
temporary duty at Norton AFB. Finally,
the people and warehouse assets were moved to McClellan in June-July
the Detachment was deactivated.
Electric produced the
F-117’s F404-GE-F1D2 engines at the company’s plant in Lynn,
(PS-44). Air Force
picked from the stream of US Navy production engines going to the F-18
After movement to a secure area, some of the
F1D2-unique parts were added
and the engines were delivered to the Skunk Works plant in Burbank, CA,
installation in production F-117s.
Lynn plant also produced the critical/sensitive tailpipes required for,
unique to, the F-117. Early
tailpipe modifications were performed at Lynn, but this work was later
Aztec, a specialty metals company on the West Coast, which was an
of program sustainment for several years.
The Lynn plant
ongoing Engineering and Program Management support.
In addition to conducting periodic Engine Program
Review (PMR) and other meetings, GE program participants kept the Air
Engine Manager at PS-33, and later at PS-88, apprised of Navy
furnished copies of Navy service bulletins.
As the Navy accumulated experience and flying hours
on this engine more
rapidly than the Air Force, this was a valuable source of information
engine aging. Kits
for those Navy
service bulletins chosen for Air Force adoption were purchased at a
compared to stand-alone buys because the Navy paid for the engineering
because there was the opportunity to piggyback on Navy quantity buys.
modification that originated
with the Air Force, and was therefore engineered by the Air Force, was
Ecology Kit, an apparatus to catch and recycle waste fuel that normally
dumped overboard on engine shutdown.
kit was needed to avoid damage to aircraft coatings caused by the
Even though the
was later dropped, the Lynn plant has continued active participation in
program and still provides management and technical support.
In order to
support the program in
its early days, GE established a depot for the engines in a commercial
plant next to the Ontario, CA, airport (PS-55), once again piggybacking
Navy F404 program. Since
program was black, only a couple of GE employees at the depot were
Their function, once the engines were covertly
delivered from PS-33, was
to double check for any identifying material and remove it, if found,
then send the engines through the line mixed in with the numerous US
engines going through the depot process under a Contractor Logistics
contract. After the
completed, they were delivered back through the PS-11 or PS-33
warehouses to the
appropriate program sites.
Later in the
program, PS-55 was
closed and the engine depot moved to the Navy depot facility in
Florida, where the Navy performed the work under a Depot Maintenance
Inter-service Support Agreement (DMISA).
was more cost effective than buying additional GE tooling that would
the Navy tooling at Jacksonville.
Beginning in 1982, the 4450th Tactical Group operated the F-117 during the first years of its existence at the Tonopah Test Range (PS-66). This covert facility in central Nevada, at the north end of the Nellis complex, enabled the concurrent development and production of the F-117 to continue far from the prying eyes of the media. By late 1989, as the F-117 was reaching maturity and was now a publicly acknowledged program, the Air Force wanted to redefine its operating command as a combat unit versus a test organization, which was the 4450th Tactical Group’s (TG) heritage. In October, 1989, the 4450th was deactivated and became the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, which continued to operate the F-117 through its first combat employments.
A depot was established in 1984 to accomplish repairs and install modifications on the aircraft. This depot, first located in Lockheed’s Palmdale Plant 10 (PS-77), eventually took the place of Lockheed Depot Field Teams performing the depot work on site at PS-66. Half of an existing Lockheed hangar, Building 602, was secured, and appropriate fencing was installed around it, including a taxiway gate to allow C-5s into the vicinity of the building for loading and unloading. This enabled the concept of Compatibility Updates (CU’s) to be implemented, in which an attempt was made to create blocks of aircraft having the same or similar configurations.
(F-117s) were moved to
and from the depot by C-5 under the cloak of darkness, in order to
program security. This
the aircraft had to be defueled, disassembled, cradled, and then loaded
the C-5, flown to the depot, and unloaded before the real work could
Of course, this meant that the reverse actions had
to occur at the end of
the depot work before the article could be reassembled, flight-tested,
redelivered to the operating Group.
limitation, caused by the
need for secrecy, was that the articles could not be moved around
Building 602 for the same reason they could not be flown to and from
This meant that a separate facility for fueling /
was impractical, so articles in work, and the depot building itself,
strongly of jet fuel. This
some concern for the safety of the operation.
The solution to that problem was to move the depot
to Site 7 of Air Force
Plant 42, adjacent to the Lockheed plant in Palmdale, as soon as
Combined Test Force (CTF) was also eventually moved to
the same site. This
allowed synergies and economies among the Lockheed support personnel, a
situation that continues to the present time.
As the F-117A program gained momentum in the early 1980’s, the USAF made plans to “normalize” future support within the AF Logistics Command structure. While being a “black” program would probably never permit a support structure parallel to that for F-15s for F-111s, Sacramento Air Logistics Center was tasked in late 1983/early 1984 to prepare to take on full logistics and management responsibility for support of the F-117A. By fall of 1984, Sacramento item managers were sitting beside their Norton AFB Det 6 counterparts in what had become Det 51 of McClellan AFB. Similarly, warehousing personnel began preparing to move the entire program inventory from Norton AFB to McClellan AFB. Of course, this was all being done “in the black” by Sacramento personnel assigned to QL, a new directorate tasked with “specialized management” of tasks assigned by the ALC commander.
January 1985, QL had been assigned ownership of
Building 250I for administrative and management offices and four bays
Building 645, a wooden WWII structure, for warehousing.
While on-the-job training continued at Det 51, other
behind in Sacramento to oversee the task of upgrading the facilities
security provisions. Offices
built within 250I, new furniture procured and squeezed in, and an
shielded TEMPEST room built for operation of the mainframe computer
handle part tracking, shipping, and ordering projections.
Parallel facilities were built within the 645
warehouse on the other side
of the base and linked with an encrypted data circuit.
By mid June
1985, all preparations were complete and a C-130
landed with all the classified technical data, files, and safes.
By the end of the day, trucks with unclassified
material and equipment
had arrived and were being unloaded; the first operations had begun.
Over the next several weeks, trucks continued to
transfer all materiel
from the Norton warehouses to McClellan – all this without overt impact
4450TG users at the growing Tonopah AB.
As the program
grew at McClellan AFB, it was interesting to
see the normal warehouse signs of aircraft logistics – tires, engines,
and crates – stacked side-by-side with the unusual signs of expansion
remote Tonopah operational site – beds, televisions, chairs, washing
gym equipment, toilet paper, and so forth.
As a black program, nothing was
shipped direct to the final
destination, especially parts, and sometimes people.
for a couple years into a relatively regular
pace as QL focused on moving parts and supporting the Tonopah
the System Program Office (SPO) in Dayton focused on procuring
system improvements. By
end of production was in sight and a phased program was established to
incrementally transfer management of mature aircraft systems to QL from
Final PMRT (Program Management Responsibility
Transfer) from AF Systems
Command SPO to the AF Logistics Command QL occurred on October 1, 1989
for the last aircraft, 843, began to come together for delivery the
the incremental PMRT on November 10, 1988, the
Government announced the existence of the Stealth Fighter with an
picture and a short, but sweet press conference.
Although it did not make much difference in QL’s
work, it was at least refreshing to tell one’s family what “Quiet
Lips” had been working on
the previous years.
(Another interpretation of QL – Quality
-- was based on the fact that the offices were filled with new
of the then-typical Government steel desks and green fiberglass divider
Activity at QL
picked up an order of magnitude in late summer
1990 when the Tonopah wing deployed most aircraft to Saudi Arabia for
Desert Shield. Support
were made more difficult by distance, incomplete usage data from the
maintainers, and the time differences.
a strange twist of circumstances, however, classification of stealth
material actually helped. Because
the F-117’s Special Access Required classified
parts had to be escorted
at all times, program shipments always moved to the front of the
those for engine exhaust tailpipes, were packed solid with smaller
unclassified parts and vital CARE packages of magazines, games, candy,
In a great blow
to QL, 1995 brought news that McClellan AFB
had been chosen for closure by July 2001.
a period of waiting to see if the closure order would stick, QL was
two of the remaining Air Logistics Centers, Ogden ALC near Salt Lake
and Oklahoma City ALC in Oklahoma.
proposals were basically to move QL management and logistics operations
bases and continue business as usual.
bidding for the job was Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio.
Dayton’s approach was different, proposing movement
activities there and logistics and warehousing activities to Palmdale,
contract to Lockheed’s Skunk Works.
By 1997, the decision was made to proceed with Wright-Patterson’s plan. A new (to the DoD) 5-year contract with an option for three additional years was negotiated for Total System Performance Responsibility (TSPR). Lockheed would assume most of the daily support operations, including all procurement, warehousing, and shipment of parts (engine excepted). August 1998 brought the official transfer of SPO responsibilities back to Ohio, followed by start of the TSPR contract in October.
By May 1999,
the McClellan warehouses were empty once more,
and QL was disestablished. Former
workers in QL had transferred elsewhere on base, moved with other
other ALC's, left or retired from Government service, and in some cases
the program to Palmdale as new Lockheed employees.
September 2000 saw most of the last former QL
McClellan AFB retire from Government civilian service.
By that time, even the airfield control tower had
closed and the entry
gates were no longer manned. The
base officially closed on July 6, 2001, and is now converting over to
civilian industrial uses. The
original 645 warehouse complete has long-since been torn down to the
foundations; the 250I office building stands empty and locked.
initial design of the F-117 aircraft, a need arose for a trainer
because it was
decided that a two-seat version would not be cost affective for a fleet
was constructed (called a CAB) at the Rye Canyon test facility and was
assist in training the first group of pilots.
This concept was expanded to become the F-117 Weapon
System Trainer (WST)
built by Singer Link in
(PS-99), and was delivered to
Tactical Air Command in 1986. The purpose of the WST is to
provide training that is directly
transferable to the F-117 aircraft in areas of:
phases of instrument flight training.
takeoffs and landings.
Flight Rules (IFR) navigation missions.
integration of aircraft emergency procedures into flight situations.
There are two
F-117 Weapons System Trainers, one at the
Integrated Support Facility (ISF) in Binghamton, NY, and the other at
AFB, NM, where it supports the 49th Fighter Wing (FW).
The WST operated by L3 Communications – Link
Simulation and Training at
the ISF is used for hardware-software integration during software
for periodic WST upgrades. These
upgrades coincide with the Block Cycle aircraft modifications so that
the WST is
kept concurrent with the aircraft and can serve as an effective
The WST operated by the 49th FW is dedicated to
continuation and mission
training, emergency procedures practice, instrument training including
disorientation awareness, and qualification training for new F-117
The Holloman WST is flown an average of 10 hours a
day and remains an
essential tool for maintaining the high state of F-117 fleet readiness
Concurrent with the establishment of the locations and support systems, the Lockheed Field Service Group was created in 1979 under the direction of Larry Bohanan. This team has demonstrated continually that the philosophy “We Care” does make a difference. Field Service team members have been a part of every deployment and exercise that the F-117 Weapons system has participated in.
This compilation has been constructed with major inputs and comments from the following: