In the era of F-35s, F-22s and B-21s, stealth technology has continued to advance and envelope an even greater portion of America’s airborne war fighting apparatus — but not too long ago, America’s stealth aircraft (and their capabilities) remains a closely guarded secret.

The Nighthawk’s angular design is actually a product of the limited computational power back during its development in the 1970s. The optimal shape for a radar deflecting aircraft that the computers of the era were able to manage was a sort of flat diamond — which Lockheed’s staff took to calling the “hopeless diamond,” as the unusual shape offered little promise of actually managing to stay airborne.

As the aircraft continued to take shape, Lockheed quickly realized that the only way flying the F-117 wouldn’t be “hopeless” would be to turn the controls of the aircraft over to computers. Because it was designed specifically for stealth (and not for performance) the aircraft proved to be impossible to fly manually. According to Lockheed, the design is aerodynamically unstable across all three of its axes.

Pilots controlled the aircraft by way of the onboard computers, which make constant corrections to offset the unstable design.

That wasn’t the only trickery afoot with the Nighthawk — the Air Force also tricked the pilots they tailored for the program, giving the deep penetration bomber an “F” prefix (F-117) to indicate that it was a fighter, specifically because they assumed the best pilots in the force would want to carry the moniker “fighter” pilot.

The F-117 Nighthawk was officially retired in 2008, though a number of them will remain in operational storage for what promises to be years to come. Nonetheless, no one will likely ever see 25 of these incredible aircraft flying in one formation ever again.

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