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On 25 December 1991, Soviet Russia ended in a relative peaceful exchange of power. There were many reasons for the fall of communism, but one plane may have put the final stamp on the Soviet fate. Eleven months prior, the F-117 Nighthawk flew 1,300 sorties (missions) over Iraq during the Gulf War and proved it was almost invincible to modern air defenses. No one even knew about the plane three years prior to the Gulf War and with its domination over Iraq, the Soviets had lost the Cold War.

F-117 Nighthawk

F-117 Nighthawk: The SciFi plane that won the Cold War?

F-117 Nighthawk:  Plane of Science Fiction

A crazy idea. An invisible plane, at least invisible to radar. A plane that could sneak in and out of enemy airspace undetected. It was so crazy, no one thought it could be done…except Lockheed Martin. The absurdity of a stealth plane that could avoid radar detection helped keep it a secret until after it was already a reality.

The one problem was that a human couldn’t fly it. The aerodynamics of the odd surface angles changed the airflow around the plane and a pilot didn’t have the reflexes to respond fast enough before the plane was out of control. The pilot had to be assisted by a computer that interpreted the commands. It was the computer that managed the control surfaces to keep the Nighthawk from crashing.

The handling characteristics of the plane were a trade-off to the possibility of having a bomber that could breach enemy airspace undetected. A bomber that could hit targets with almost perfect accuracy. Soviet Russia had poured its technology into surface-to-air missiles (SAMs.) Those missiles could track down U.S. military jets and blow them out of the sky. Their effectiveness; however, depended on radar locating the jet. Without radar detection, Soviet SAMs could not be launched.

A New Reality

Once the Soviets learned of the F-117 Nighthawk, they knew that the United States could launch a first strike on Russia. An attack that they wouldn’t know about it until the first bomb hit the target. At the time, the Cold War had died down, but the Nighthawk made the idea of a war with the United States unwinnable. After the F-117 was revealed to the world, all of the military might of Soviet Russia became vulnerable to a handful of invisible planes.

In truth, there were many reasons that Soviet Russia fell. The decline of communism happened over decades. The economic and social issues were the prime causes of the USSR, but the F-117 created a new reality that Soviet Russia had not anticipated, nor could they overcome.