Declassified documents from the British National Archives have confirmed what was largely an unofficial rumour.

The declassified documents from the British National Archives show that former US President Ronald Reagan had offered British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher a chance for both countries to work on the F-117 stealth fighter programme back in 1986.

The programme was given the code-name Project Moonflower. It is understood that the British Ministry of Defence declined the offer as it was still a ‘black programme’.

The later version offered to the Royal Air Force in 1995 was the F-117C. The aircraft was to be a baseline F-117A fitted with British avionics and EJ200 engines, plus a number of BAE structural components or sub-assemblies.

The F-117 was based on the Have Blue technology demonstrator and was the first operational aircraft to be designed around stealth technology. The maiden flight of the Nighthawk took place in 1981 and the aircraft achieved initial operating capability status in 1983.

The Nighthawk was shrouded in secrecy until it was revealed to the public in 1988.

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Mike Saul

So we decided to stick with the Tornado IDS. We get the chance ground breaking technology and we turned down it favour of an outdated strategy which saw 6 tornado aircraft shot down over Iraq 90/91.


Staggeringly facile comparison, and very ill-informed. Your comments continue to be poorly thought out,Mike.

Mike Saul

Please don’t respond if you have nothing to add to the topic in question.

John Walker

Ah, so you’re suggesting we all accept the numb remarks of every buffoon going and shouldn’t put them right.


I was, Mike, seriously why do you think the West’s only superpower had stealth aircraft at that time and no other NATO country could afford them ?

Tornado has been used successfully over many years on a variety of ops.

Your instant knee jerk reaction just doesn’t add to the reason why decisions were made at that time.
No offence, but your attitude comes across as “why can’t we have everything all the time instantly” like a spoilt child at Christmas.


Mike, are going to let this Jackass talk to you like that?


Hey, the tornado is a very multi role aircraft which is easier to maintain with a much more sturdy frame. We would have removed the tornado if it doesn’t work to the highest of standard. When working with the aircraft in Afghan it has performed admirably and with life saving performances that I wouldn’t change. The stealth isn’t necessary for the role in which it’s used. Hence the US using primarily F16s, F15s and A10s for ground strikes during the conflict. All of which do t have stealth capabilities.


This was an era that we were trying to do it ourselves and so buying the US plane would have gone against that mantra.

The funny part is that they were offering a customised version with UK parts, where have we seen that go badly wrong before… An already expensive jet, double or tripled in price by UK ‘enhancements’


I’m inclined to agree. The Phantom was a good example. Much more expensive than pure US versions and not as good.


Yup. Never to old if your wings still fold.
Ex dog sqn liney


Tornado IDS was already coming in to service at the time. Should the whole development have been cancelled at that stage in order to spend even more money on an as yet unproved technology? Interesting to note that Tornado is very much STILL in service and doing a great job, unlike the F-117. As to the Tornado losses in Gulf War One that was rather down to RAF tactics than any fault with the aircraft itself. Once the British built ‘bomb proof’ aircraft hangers proved to be anything but the need for low-level delivery of JP233s evaporated. A quick lash… Read more »


The Hardened Aircraft Shelters (HAS) in Iraq were made by the Germans, not the UK. They were also built to a higher standard than NATO HAS.

And no Tornado’s were lost on JP233 weapon delivery runs, they were lost on toss bombing of 1,000lbers and controlled flight into terrain.


declined free blackhawks with every Apache too.

Peter Bezemer

Tornado is a whole different game, try fitting 12 brimstone’s to an F-117.


Yes mate…. Like I have said before, politicians do not fight wars.

Tony Cyp

Four British airmen and up to four Tornado aircraft may have been lost unnecessarily at the beginning of the Gulf war because of “disgraceful interference” by a senior officer at the Ministry of Defence, the former commander of the British forces confirmed. The senior officer alleged to of been Marshal of the RAF Sir David Craig, was then Chief of Defence Staff. The claim is made by General Sir Peter de la Billiere in a BBC1 documentary series, The Gulf War, which was aired on 9 January 1996 marking the fifth anniversary of the 1991 conflict. During the war Sir… Read more »

Adam Robinson

There was nothing wrong with low-level attacks as long as they were planned well in order to maintain the element of surprise. It’s when they signposted their attacks that they became vulnerable. The GR1As flew the entire war at low-level as their recce equipment was optimised for that.


The F117 might have been great against a sophisticated enermy but how good would have been against the Taliban inAfghanistan?


The US used the F-117 in Afghanistan along with the B-2.

Mike Saul

There were ZERO F117s shot down in the Gulf War. The only loss was the one over Bosnia, and that was due to a host of things. The F117 flew litterally thousands of missions for almost 30 years with 1 loss, and in some of the World’s most heavily contested airspace. Anyone that would not take that record is a fool. The British Tornado was an outdated aircraft the day it launched. The British losses were all in the opening days of the Gulf War and the British were forced to stop low level bombing which was how the aircraft… Read more »


“The only loss was the one over Bosnia”

First (and hopefully only) plane crash I ever witnessed in person.

Douglas Newell

Thats a fair point. Noting against Tornado but F117 would have given UK a step change in capability. … one which we are only getting now as F35 moves into service.


if memory serves me well a few stealth aircraft were also shot down..even though the yanks tried to deny it until the wreckage popped up on the news…




I believe the remains are on display in the Belgrade Air Museum.

Peter Ratcliffe

When and where did these shootdowns happen ????


There were ZERO F117s shot down in the Gulf War. The only loss was the one over Bosnia, and that was due to a host of things. The F117 flew litterally thousands of missions for almost 30 years with 1 loss, and in some of the World’s most heavily contested airspace. Anyone that would not take that record is a fool. The British Tornado was an outdated aircraft the day it launched. The British losses were all in the opening days of the Gulf War and the British were forced to stop low level bombing which was how the aircraft… Read more »


The F-117 was shot down not over Bosnia but over Serbia (then Yugoslavia). The US have also admitted to a second F-117 being damaged by an SA-3 GOA over Yugoslavia. For several years during the 2000’s the USAF website had the details in their timeline for 1999. ‘Jun 9, 1999 Operation Allied Force ended. More than 800 SAMs were fired at NATO aircraft, but only one F-117 and one F-16 were downed. Another F-117 suffered minor damage from a SA-3 that exploded nearby and two A-10s were damaged by anti-aircraft artillery fire. During the campaign, 35,219 sorties were flown, 16,587… Read more »

Double R

It was not Yugoslavia then. Serbia was Serbia after the break up of Yugoslavia some 7 years before the F117 was shot down


The initial phase of the 1991 Gulf War was at low level for many of the players and was planned for three days. F-111s, F-15Es and even B-52s were in those initial days flown at low level to strike targets. A number of B-52Gs suffered combat damage at low level. One F-15Es was lost during a low-level mission near Basra. Again during this low level phase other Coalition aircraft suffered damage. One French Jaguar returned with its tail shredded. After the initial part of the low level phase CENTAF ordered the switch to medium level operations. Details of the low… Read more »


There was no other stealth losses apart from F-117 serial 82-806 in Yugoslavia. The wreckage footage you are referring to was from that loss. There was no other footage of stealth aircraft shown on the news.

Jon Lake

Mike Saul, Even with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight, your comments are simplistic and (frankly) a bit silly. The RAF had committed to the Tornado IDS years before, and the aircraft fulfilled a different role. The F-117A was a great but inflexible one trick pony (it was a Stealthy first day of the war delivery platform for 2,000-lb LGBs), the Tornado dropped bombs, cluster bombs, ALARM anti-radiation missiles, anti-ship missiles, JP233 airfield/area attack weapons, LGBs, Brimstone ASMs, and Storm Shadow cruise missiles, and was a competent SEAD platform and reconnaissance aircraft. The F-117A would have been a great complement to… Read more »

Brad Elward

Well said Jon.


“Stealth” technology does not imply undetectable, just harder to detect ergo it was only a matter of time before someone did. The Yugoslavians were very clever in their methodology when they shot the F-117 down in 1999. I’ve seen claims of others but there has never been any evidence to back them up.


The only reason they were able to shoot it down was because they ran the exact same flight pattern multiple times a day


Yes they did, and it later transpired a French officer had supplied the Serbs with the flight plans for the F117 entry and exit points so on the day in question the Serbs knew exactly where the F117 was going to be at an exact time. It was then engaged with multiple missiles, one of which exploded in close proximity causing damage and the pilot ejected, but the aircraft actually flew on for a distance before crashing.


Why make this a pissing match, we are still far ahead by atleast 20 years on air tech


A dozen F117s was a good idea. Two dozen better. A thousand sorties – one loss.

Steven K

Incredible really.

We will always be behind the US.

They simply have a bottomless pit of cash for defense. That’s our problem as we don’t.

We never replaced the vulcan long range bomber.

Instead our tornados flew from the uk and Cyprus to bomb Syria because we have no carrier.

I think we should have at least a fleet of 3-6 long range heavy/fast bombers now.

Anyone read the article on the death trap Ajax light armoured vehicle we’ve invested 3.5B in while the Russians build fully automated machines.


Tornados are great for the job we are using them for, which is bombing targets in non-contested airspace, but are extremely weak when it comes to contested airspace. They were designed to fly low and fast in hope of avoiding AA fire, and yet this proved not to work in the first iraq war.

Luckily they will soon be replaced with F35’s which will hopefully be able to operated in contested air space, since even with the typhoon we are stuck, since we have no electric warfare support missiles etc anymore.

[…] the past couple of days, several sources have reported on the fact that in 1986, the US President, Ronald Reagan, offered Britain the […]


Difficult to compare the two aircraft really. Each have their pros and cons and I highly doubt that we could have bought the Nighthawk in place of the Tornado in its entirety. Performance wise and weapons carrying capability the Tornado wipes the floor with the Nighthawk particularly in the latest GR4 specification. Its all down to what you want to achieve. The Nighthawk for example could not do the job of the Tornado in the GCAS (close air support role) as it can only carry two bombs…. and as it has poor external visibility (behind and above) and with no… Read more »

[…] the past couple of days, several sources have reported on the fact that in 1986, the US President, Ronald Reagan, offered Britain the […]


To an early post, we have a huge history of taking foreign frsframes for our military and kitting them out with our own stuff – ships, rifles, Phantom, Sea King, Wessex, AH64, Chinook, Polaris.
We just want platforms for our tech, I rather imagine Reagan was not as dumb as people portray him and wanted us to help on the tech, we came up with the original delta wing aircraft and didn’t want tail fins on them, long before the F117 or B2.


Though just makes me sad thinking about the magnificent TSR.2 that was cancelled in 1965! And how the UK by way of RAF squandered the magnificent potential of the Buccaneer S.2. If only they’d bought more and done a major upgrade in the 1970s. No real need for the IDS Tornado!

[…] Recently declassified documents show that the US had offered the UK work on the F-117 stealth programme back in 1986. – Read full story at Hacker News […]


I have to ask how would it have been possible for the EJ200 engine to have been used on a British version of the F-117? The engine was not in existence at the time. If they had said the RB199, non-afterburning version, then it would be more accurate. As it is, the issue with the F-117 was that it was a 1st gen stealth fighter. Much of the technology for it was never tried before, and proved to be not as durable. It was also a one trick pony. The fact is the Tornado is STILL in active service with… Read more »

Chris Pacey

The very fact that they were offered by the US is a good thing. We had already purchased the Phantom and the UK had given the design of the Harrier to MD in the US. This set the tone for the collaboration, the 117 was tested in the UK in 1986 with the loss of 1 of a flight of three aircraft that were sent over. This established to the UK that it was not as reliable a package in the new era of fly by wire and non-aerodynamic flight as they would have liked. It also highlighted that although… Read more »


An F117 was lost in the UK?


It may have been expensive, but the UK could’ve offset part of it it by purchasing the F15C in lieu of the Tornado ADV. And I don’t think anyone is suggesting the F117 would have replaced the Tornado IDS, simply supplemented the RAF’s strike with a stealthy salient. If the US had plans for a wing of them, one could imagine the RAF employing a squadron of them. In the mid-80’s, there was no sign the Cold War was going to evaporate before their eyes before the end of the decade, so a US/UK force of 100+ F117s might have… Read more »