The fuss about the new B-21 stealth bomber has drawn the attention of the aviation world.

The first operational stealth aircraft was the F-118. The F-117 has been retired for about 15 years, but it's still active. The Nighthawk is still being used to train pilots.

The US Air Force wants to keep some of its aircraft in the air until 2034. A US Air Force Request for Information published this past fall sought companies interested in a potential 10-year contract to maintain the F-117.

F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft
An F-117 receives a final check at a base in Kuwait in June 1998.
US Air Force via Getty Images

According to the RFI, the contractor will have to provide three services.

At Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, maintenance and logistics for F-117As are performed.

Tonopah is located about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas. There are tests of nuclear weapon systems and other interesting activities.

The original home of the F-118 and its operators was Tonopah.

The Air Force wants companies to maintain F-117s in extended storage and to declassify them for museums. The RFI says the demilitarization/declassification rate will be between 2 and 3 aircraft a year.

F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft retirement
Employees and retirees who worked on the F-117 at the plane's retirement ceremony in Palmdale, California on April 22, 2008.
Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

There are more specific requirements that include maintaining the stealth of the F-117. The RFI wants to know if contractors have experience using ground-based diagnostic radar to spot defects in stealth components.

More than 10 of the 45 F-117s the Air Force has have been approved for transfer to museums.

The aircraft will be made available to museums as we demilitarize.

Out of service, but still in flight

F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet
An F-117 at the Fresno Air National Guard Base in September 2021.
US Air Force/Capt. Jason Sanchez

During the 70s, the F-117 was developed as a solution to air defenses. The Nighthawk was designed by the renowned and highly secretive "Skunk Works".

The F-117 has always had an air of myth around it.

It was viewed as a subsonic bomber that could only carry two bombs in an internal bomb bay. When the F-118 made its first flight in 1981 it was a big deal.

There are reports that the aircraft is related to the F-19 stealth fighter.

The F-117 generated a lot of buzz when it flew in the Gulf War. The first stealth aircraft shot down in combat was the Nighthawk.

F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft crash Serbia
A woman dances on a US Air Force F-117 downed west of Belgrade on March 28, 1999.

The Serbians were able to hit the Nighthawk with a surface-to-air missile thanks to the peculiarity of the F-117. The pilot ejected from the plane and spent eight hours on the ground before being rescued.

Sixty F-117s were built. The Air Force decided to retire the plane because it was an early stealth design that required a lot of maintenance. The old Nighthawk is still alive and well.

It has been seen training with newer aircraft, including with the Marine Corps F-35Bs off the California coast in April.

The F-117 is being used to train for missile defense. It's odd that the world's first stealth aircraft ends up as a fake missile, but it's appropriate for an aircraft with such a colorful history.

His work has been published in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine, and other publications. He has a masters degree in political science. You can follow him on social networking sites.