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Stealth jet may get fresh coat of paint

F-117A Nighthawk
F-117A Nighthawk

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U.S. Air Force
Albuquerque (New Mexico)
New Mexico

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, New Mexico (Reuters) -- The F-117A fighter jet, the radar-eluding stealth plane known for its angular design and charcoal black color, may be getting a makeover in a new shade of gray.

The U.S. Air Force has painted one of its stealth fighters at Holloman Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico to see if the plane called the Nighthawk might be harder to spot when it flies during daylight hours in a color other than black.

"Obviously, if you can see it less during the day, you can fly it more," said Col. Jim Carter, vice commander of the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, which is overseeing the test.

The $45 million fighter plane first rolled off the assembly lines about 20 years ago and is painted a sleek black. The color is perfect for night flights, but creates a stark contrast with daytime skies.

Other color schemes have been tried before on the fighter.

Carter described the test shade as "regular gray aircraft paint," similar to that currently used on other fighter jets. The cost of a paint job on one of the fighters is "a couple thousand dollars," he said.

The test fighter was painted last fall and will be observed over the year for "visual acuity", meaning how easily it is detected during daylight, twilight and evening hours, Carter said. If officials like the new color, the rest of the fleet could get a similar makeover.

"It's still in the exploratory stage, but it will be a big change if we do it," Carter said.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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