Unlike their Senior Trend counterparts at Area 51, the operational pilots at TTR lived a bat-like existence, – sleeping during the day and fly ing only at night, it was both highly demanding and chronically tiring. At 01:13 hours on Friday 11 July 1986, in excellent weather and good visibility, Maj Ross E Mulhare departed Tonopah in aircraft ’792, callsign Ariel 31. 31 minutes later, ’792 ploughed into a hillside 2,280 ft above sea level, killing its
Above A-7s were used to provide pilots with a cover story for the 4450th’s actual mission. (USAF)
Below Pilots of the 37thTFW, 4I6TFS (Ghost Riders),attend a training briefing. (USAF)
Above Ordinance specialists load a 2,0001b GBU-10 practice bomb aboard a 37 TFW aircraft (USAF).
Right In April 1986, two RAF test pilots from Boscombe Down were invited to evaluate the F-l 17 at Tonopah, a fact. that remained shrouded in secrecy for over ten years. One of them, Sqd Ldr Dave Southwood. is seen pictured in an ETPS Jaguar.
(Crown Copy DERA, Boscombe Down)
pilot. The prime reason behind this horrific accident was almost certainly pilot fatigue and spatial disorientation.
The 4450th lost a second F-117A and pilot on 14 October 1987. Major Michael C Stewart got airborne front Tonopah at 19:53 hours, in aircraft ‘815, callsign BURNR 54. In common with the loss of ‘792, the accident report failed to clearly determine the cause, but yet again, repeated references were made to pilot fatigue and disorientation.
Six days after the tragic loss of Major Stewart, the 4450th became the centre of more unwanted attention, prompted by the loss of yet another of its aircraft. On this occasion Major Bruce L Teagarden (Bandit 222) safely ejected from an A-7D after the aircraft lost power. Disastrously, the A-7 crashed into the Rantada Inn Hotel, near Indianapolis airport, killing nine people in the process, h’ollowing a detailed accident investigation however, Bruce was cleared of all culpability surrounding
Above On 10 November 1988, moves began to ease Senior Trend out of the Black, when Assistant Secretary of Defence J Daniel Howard first showed off this grainy picture at a Pentagon press conference. (USAF)
Below In September 1989, the 37th traded in its A-7s for more fuel efficient T-38s. (Lockheed Martin)
the tragic incident. Although publicly acknowledged as being a member of the 4450th, the unit was not known to have any links with Tonopah, ensuring that Senior Trend remained in the black.
During a Pentagon press conference on 10 November 1988, Assistant Secretary of Defense J. Daniel Howard, revealed to the world an extremely ‘grainy’ photograph of the F-117 and Senior Trend was slowly eased into the ‘white world’.
Gone was the need to shelter the 4450th’s covert activity behind a valid aircraft type. Consequently in September 1989, the Wing said farewell to the trusty ‘SlufF and instead operated far more economical T-38A Talons, and later AT-38Bs, in the chase pilot proficiency role. Yet another change took place on 5 October 1989: the 4450th TG, together with its component squadrons, was redesignated. The parent designation was changed to the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, the 4450th (Nightstalkers) together with the 4451st Test Squadron, became the 415th (Nightstalkers) and the 416th (Ghost Riders) respectively. The 4453rd Test and Evaluation Squadron (Grim
Above F-117A 802. first flew on 7 March 1984, it is pictured here over Lake Tahoe. (Lockheed Martin)
Reapers) continued in its responsibility as the Wings training squadron, becoming instead the 417th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron (Bandits). The new designations had a proud historical provenance, being the first US night – fighter squadrons of the Second World War.