This novel is a work of historical fiction.
The Have Blue project was a historical fact.
On 16 November 1977, a Galaxy C5-A transport aircraft landed at Burbank Airport. The first operational stealth plane, HB 1001, was loaded on board and flown to Groom Lake for testing. HB 1002 followed soon after. Both planes were lost during testing (both pilots ejecting safely). This was the end of the Have Blue project, which confirmed the flight worthiness of the unique flight design of the F-117A, as well as the success of its radar evasion capabilities. Stealth technology was rapidly becoming a key part of our national arsenal, and the proven concept now was on its way to becoming functional military hardware.
During the 1980 presidential debate, candidates Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both mentioned a mysterious technology vital to our national interest, called stealth, and the press pursued eagerly any crumbs of information that might fall off the table. Ronald Reagan became president and the nation's rearmament proceeded full tilt in great secrecy. Mysteriously, rumors appeared about various 'black' (highly secret) projects including one called Aurora and another called Manta. Conspiracy theorists hovering outside government testing areas began to report all sorts of strange sightings and gave enormous new impetus to all sorts of UFO theories. Anyone who blundered near the facilities was interrogated by Federal officials and frightened within an inch of their livesmore fodder for conspiracy theories. The interrogators themselves had no idea what they were protectingone allegedly thought the Air Force was building a time machine (Robert Dorr reporting in Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, Aerospace Publishing Ltd., London U.K. and Westport, Conn. U.S.A. 1995).
The squadron was camouflaged by the cover of operational fighter planes including Vought A-7D's at Nevada's Tonopah Test Range during the early 1980's. Operations were so secret that the planes were said to fly only on nights of little or no moon (as during their initial combat deployment over Iraq a decade later). Of special concern were the Soviet spy satellites that moved daily over U.S. facilities with incredibly high resolution cameras. Lockheed was adept at playing games with the Soviets, to the extent of moving cars around in parking lots and changing designated parking spots to prevent the Soviets from knowing who was in the plant at a given hour. The same rationale drove the parking of A-7D fighters around the F-117A hangars.
While the F117A was becoming a military reality, testing and deployment were advancing on an even more sophisticated warplane, the B-2 stealth bomber. Computer technology had, by the 1980's, advanced sufficiently that designers could go beyond the mathematically simple triangles of Have Blue and actually plot curved surfaces requiring many billions of calculations to perfect. These curved surfaces are evident in the B-2's unusual design.
The F-117A is not really a fighter, but a bomber. It carries two laser-guided 2,000 pound smart bombs especially designed for its bomb bay. It is a sizeable bomb, at the lower end of the spectrum of so-called block busters, and its precision guidance means the bomb can be pinpoint targeted. This caused the F-117A to contribute enormously during the Gulf War in 1990 and also during the NATO bombing campaign over Yugoslavia in 1999.
The crash of an F-117A near Bakersfield, California, on 11 July 1986 began to really blow off the lid of secrecy. In the tragedy, pilot Maj. Ross E. Mulhare was killed. Security police cordoned off the area and would not even let local firefighters approach to battle a 150-acre blaze amid dry brush.
On 14 October 1987 a second F-117A crashed at Nellis AFB, killing its pilot, Maj. Michael C. Stewart.
In October 1988, the Pentagon is said to have begun leaking information about its stealth fighter, just weeks before national elections, to give George Bush a boost over Michael Dukakis (Robert F. Dorr, op. cit.). The leaks were confirmed days after the election, on 10 November 1988, when Secretary of Defense J. Daniel Howard held a news conference announcing the plane's operational readiness, and showing a single blurred photo that hid the plane's faceted design.
The Lockheed F-117A stealth fighter was initiated into combat during Operation Just Cause in Panama, in December 1989, for the ouster of narco-dictator Manuel Noriega. The aircraft saw only minor action.
When Operation Desert Storm was launched in August 1990, the F-117A found its greatest hours of glory, taking out targets in downtown Baghdad with surgical precision. The U.S. Air Force would claim that the F-117A craft were only 2.5% of fighting aircraft present in theater, but that they hit about 40% of the targets struck during the war.
During the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, one F-117A was lost to ground AA fire at night, and one proposed explanation was that the sophisticated Soviet-era tracking systems were able to locate it and track its flight through smooth coordination among a chain of tracking stations. By this time the diamond technology was aging, and in any case little could be gained from the materials on the ground alone without the calculations needed for the skin configuration. The pilot was rescued during one of the most spectacular night rescues by a helicopter crew ever.
Various proposals were in the works for successor models at the time of publication (October 1999).
Most of the characters in this work of historical fiction (Paul Owens, the Kassners, Steve Rossi) are fictional indeed. Some, like Ben Rich, Bill Schroeder, and others aren't. One of the most central figures in the real history is not mentionedDenys Overholser, whom Ben Rich credits with initially connecting Pyotr Ufimtsev's paper with stealth design which Bill Schroeder then brought into full mathematical fruition.
This novel is an entertainment, and in no way reflects on the lives and personalities of real people mentioned in the historical events. As a work of historical fiction, it takes some liberties in creating personalities around real events. At the same time, the author wishes to point the reader to his sources, so that the reader can fully appreciate the true dramatic story of the stealth fighter's development. As mentioned earlier, the primary source of information has been the nonfiction book "Skunk Works : A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed" by Ben R. Rich with Leo Janos, Little Brown and Co., 1996. Other references include: "Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk" by Robert F. Dorr, Aerospace Publishing Ltd., London U.K. and Westport Conn U.S.A. 1995; "F117 Stealth in action" by Jim Goodall, Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., Carrollton, TX U.S.A. 1991; "Lockheed Horizons" ed. Thomas J. Goff, Lockheed Creative Communications, Calabasas CA U.S.A., Issue No. 30, May 1992.
Copyright © 1996 by John Argo, Clocktower Books. All Rights Reserved.