Weird Metallic-Looking Coating Spotted on the F-35 and F-117

These unusual reflective coating panels in the aircraft's fuselage might be a new technology to avoid Infrared Search and Track (IRST) systems.

The USAF is currently testing unusual but apparently quite efficient skin coating designs on the F-35 and F-117 that dramatically change aircraft appearance.

It changes the aircraft’s fuselage from matte-like to mirror-like depending on the angle.

A strange coating is being tested

The mirror-like panels match the sky color, which makes the aircraft a bit harder to detect – But, this new coating may be a protective skin against fighter aircraft’ IRST system.


The photos of this unconventional coating in the F-35 and F-117 were published by Elijah Delgadillo (@eli_aviation), a photographer of military aircraft. He spotted the two aircraft flying low and noticed the differences from their original skin.

The innovative reflective surface displayed a unique polished metal coating that is carefully designed to not obstruct the fighter’s sensors, access points, and antenna. Military experts consider it was a test of advanced infrared sensors. What we know for sure is that those weren’t the ordinary coating of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.

So… what can it be? What’s the point of adding a new metal coating to the F-35 and F-117?


This new technology was tested before

It is believed that the weird-looking coating spotted on the F-35 and F-117 is definitely a new technology test. But, there’s no official announcement on what this coating may be – and this reflective surface was already tested on the F-22 Raptor.

The F-22 Raptor fighter is recognizable by its gray look. But, it was also seen with a uncommon reflective surface in 2021.

Similarly, the F-117 was spotted featuring a strange shiny coating too, and it has been used for testing new technologies since 1993, when an F-117 flew with a similar reflective surface to decrease its visual detection.


Now, specialists suggest that this revolutionary technology is mature enough, and it may be used in the near future to increase the capabilities of stealth aircraft.

That’s why it was tested on the F-22 in 2021. The F-22 is a great fighter jet for testing innovative technologies and pushing new materials to their limits.

On the other hand, the F-117, despite being a retired aircraft, is still one of the best training aircraft of the USAF, and it has already been used for the development of this technology since 1993.


Why do the USAF test this new technology on the F-35 and F-117

An IRST sensor on the Su 35.
Regiment100thAnniversary Russia’s Ministry of Defence. Licensed under CC by 4.0

According to military aviation experts, this material is probably being tested for avoiding IRST. In recent times, there has been increased testing of IRST, which is an advanced system for detecting and tracking aircraft widely used in modern fighters jets like the F-35.

Also, it might be a new protective technology to defend aircraft from laser weapons, which makes sense because the USAF and Navy are interested in implementing cutting-edge weapons for the next decades and replacing weapons that are getting outdated.

However, there’s a tremendous amount of testing currently ongoing on IRST, and it can have many different purposes that are still unknown.


The truth is that a new generation of stealth aircraft is probably emerging!

The testing of this new technology on aircraft such as F-35 and F-117 is probably the second phase of a long testing program. It is an indication that it can likely be applied in the near future on other stealth aircraft currently in service.

There’s no official information on what function this coating has, but it is clear that this technology might be a test for building a next-generation aircraft.

In any case, new technologies to detect aircraft are being implemented quickly to ensure the US Armed Forces remain a top military power in the coming years.


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