Meet Shaba

In 2019, the Air Zoo was notified that it will be the proud recipient of one of the first F- 117 Nighthawks released for public display at a non- government institution.

The highly decorated Shaba (817) is one of 15 Nighthawks with over 5,000 flight hours. This incredible aircraft is one of 10 Nighthawks to fly at least 50 combat sorties; one of 7 that flew in at least three of the four significant campaigns in which Nighthawks were used; and one of only 5 that fit all three categories.


In the early 1970s, the United States found itself vulnerable to new, advanced air-defense missile systems that integrated radar-guided surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and air-launched radar-guided missiles. To mitigate the threat, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a program to develop the technology and strategies necessary to reduce radar detectability in U.S. aircraft.

In 1975, DARPA awarded Lockheed Martin the contract for “Have Blue,” the stealth demonstrator that would eventually lead to the F- 117A Nighthawk. Skunk Works was awarded the contract to produce the F-117 in November 1978, with the first flight taking place on June 18, 1981, just 31 months after winning the contract. Produced in true Skunk Works fashion – under absolute secrecy – the Nighthawk went on to play an important role in six operational missions including Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom; during Operation Desert Storm (1990-1991) alone, it flew an impressive 1,271 sorties with 80% mission success. Only one F-117 was ever lost in combat.

The secret to the Nighthawk’s success lies in its unique design. Unlike the sleek designs of many of the aircraft previously produced by Lockheed Martin, the F-117 is full of strategically designed angular panels. The very specific combination of shaping and radar absorbent materials reduces radar cross section on the aircraft and make it nearly invisible to radar detection. Awarded the Collier Trophy for “Greatest Achievement in Aeronautics and Astronautics in America” (1989), the F-117 was retired in 2008 after 26 years of active duty.


After an exciting eight days of travel, Air Zoo President & CEO, Troy Thrash, along with a crew of dedicated transportation specialists, finished their 1,940 mile journey to bring the aerospace and science center's new aircraft home to Portage, MI. The Air Zoo announced the arrival of their newest aircraft, an F-117 Nighthawk on December 7, 2020.  This new plane is a stealth fighter, a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, Tail #817, and nicknamed Shaba.

Last year, the Air Zoo was notified that they would be the proud recipient of one of the first Lockheed F-117 Nighthawks released for public display! This plane represents the U.S. Air Force’s first active military stealth aircraft, and the Air Zoo team could not be more excited to have been chosen for this honor. Once received, the week of December 7th, the Air Zoo is expected to be the first non-governmental facility in the country – and the only museum in the state of Michigan – to publicly display an F-117.

The highly decorated Shaba (tail number 817) was transported on two trucks across the country. The truck carrying the wings and tail fins made excellent time and arrived in Kalamazoo late Saturday night. The precious cargo was unloaded this morning at the Air Zoo’s Flight Discovery Center.  The Air Zoo team eagerly anticipates the arrival of the fuselage this Wednesday afternoon, and plans to off-load it on Thursday, December 10th. They will work with a team from the Tonopah Test Range to reunite Shaba’s main components for display on the Flight Discovery Center’s exhibit floor on Thursday and Friday the 10th and 11th.  The Air Zoo’s Restoration Team will work to recreate the aircraft’s leading edges and to paint her for display at the Flight Innovation Center near the end of 2021. While under restorative care, Shaba will be available for guests to see up close and personal.


Since December of 2020 the Air Zoo's Restoration Team has been busy getting Shaba ready for her more permanent placement at the Air Zoo's Flight Innovation Center.  A dedicated team of volunteers have been working tirelessly to recreate the Nighthawk's leading edges, to clean, prime paint and repair body structures and to share her exciting story with onlookers visiting the Flight Discovery Center.  The progress they have made in such a short time is monumental and guests are encouraged to visit the Restoration Center during their visits.  

Those interested in learning more about project "Get Shaba" can connect with the Air Zoo on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter or on their dedicated Facebook Group page at

Posted by Nikki Statler at 5:58 PM
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