In a tribute to its rich history, the 8th Fighter Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base recently revealed the Black Jet F-16 flagship, now adorned in a new color scheme — black and grey. This new design pays homage to the squadron’s legacy of flying the F-117 Nighthawk, the first stealth aircraft.

Maj. Daniel Thompson, an instructor pilot with the squadron, emphasized that the new paint scheme perfectly aligns with the unit’s identity and highlights a unique chapter of its history.

A Legacy of Stealth: The F-117 Nighthawk’s Impact

From 1992 until 2008, the 8th Fighter Squadron operated the F-117, a stealth jet specifically created to evade radar and strike deep into the heart of the enemy. Development of the F-117 started in 1978, and it first flew in 1981. However, the Pentagon didn’t publicly acknowledge the aircraft’s existence until 1988.

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An F-16 Viper from the 8th Fighter Squadron waits on the runway at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, on June 28, 2024. (AETC)

The F-117 first saw combat during the Panama invasion in 1989. It also conducted over a thousand sorties in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, delivering precision-guided munitions. The F-117 joined the 8th Fighter Squadron in 1992. This was known as “The Black Sheep” due to its World War II service, flying P-38, P-40, P-47, and P-51 fighters in the Pacific. The squadron’s emblem, featuring a black sheep alongside a lightning bolt, symbolizes their striking power and boldness.

Continuing the Mission: The F-16 and Ongoing Operations

The F-117 bolstered the squadron’s capabilities during deployments in the 1990s, such as Operation Southern Watch in the Middle East and Operation Allied Force in Europe. During the latter, a Yugoslavian missile shot down Col. Darrell P. Zelko, but he was rescued by Air Force teams on that same night.

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The Black Sheep gets a new paint job similar to an F-117. (Aviation Geek Club)

In 2003, the 8th Fighter Squadron returned to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. They targeted locations where Saddam Hussein was believed to hide. When the Iraqi forces responded to the bombings in Baghdad, the Nighthawk pilots had already completed their mission and departed.

The Black Sheep continued flying the F-117 until 2008, when the squadron was inactivated. The Nighthawk was retired to storage at Tonopah Test Range, Nevada. The F-117 and the squadron remained active in other roles. The 8th returned in 2009 as an F-22 fighter squadron. It was retired again in 2011 and then reactivated as an F-16 training squadron in 2o17.

Preserving History: The Future of the Black Jet

The F-117 reappeared around 2020, serving as an aggressor aircraft in large-scale exercises like Sentry Savannah and Red Flag. Around 45 Nighthawks can fly or be revived, and the Air Force plans to keep them operational for testing and training until 2034.

The new paint scheme on the flagship Black Jet F-16 was developed with the assistance of the Hill Air Force Base’s fighter maintenance depot. Martha Whipple, historian for Holloman’s 49th Wing, stated that the paint scheme pays homage to the squadron’s legacy, fostering pride and continuity while educating a new breed of pilots and maintainers about the Black Sheep’s history.

The F-16 now serves as a daily trainer and represents the squadron at air shows. Maj. Thompson noted that the paint job never fails to make him smile whenever he sees it, blending functionality with a nod to the past.

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