On January 17, 1991, the Nighthawks wrote a new chapter in air warfare with their attack on Iraq. On the first day of the war, Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighters flew less than three percent of the total sorties, but took out more than 30 percent of the targets. In 1,271 combat sorties during the 43 days of the air offensive, the Nighthawks made 1,669 pinpoint hits on key targets.
The public was utterly fascinated by the release of films taken during the attacks, which show the laser-guided bombs striking windows and airshafts of buildings with an uncanny precision.
Curiously enough, the United States Air Force had not been at all certain that the Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk Stealth Fighter would function as planned. The Iraqi defenses were so heavy, and there was so much barrage fire, it seemed inevitable that sheer chance would see a Nighthawk brought down. Fortunately, this was not the case, and the first loss did not occur until the 1999 war in Bosnia, when a lack of electronic countermeasures (ECM) coverage (and the possibility of a security lapse) caused an F-117A to be shot down.
The United States Air Force purchased only 59 F-117As, and losses have whittled that number down to about 53 in the active inventory. Yet, in every potential combat situation, there is an immediate demand for their services. Consequently, the Air Force reserves them for use against targets of the highest value.
Early in the Nighthawk's career, rumors abounded that it was difficult to fly. However, the multiple computer systems on board compensate for its lack of stability, making it a pleasant aircraft to fly. Its pilots are very loyal to it.