Wow! It’s not very often someone manages to catch a classified aircraft ‘in the wild’ but it appears that’s exactly what happened to veteran interceptors Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett in Amarillo on March 10th. Their story has made headlines in Aviation Week and The Aviationist blog among other news outlets. So what exactly have Steve and Dean snapped a photo of here? There are several theories being floated at the moment, so let’s take a look at each one.
Mystery Aircraft Over Texas || Ares
… the basic shape - while it resembles Boeing’s Blended Wing Body studies or the Swift Killer Bee/Northrop Grumman Bat unmanned air system - is different from anything known to have flown at full size, lacking the notched trailing edge of Northrop Grumman’s full-size designs.
The aircraft seen here was accompanied by two others. This and the fact that Steve picked up some apparently related voice traffic suggests that the aircraft is piloted: I doubt that you’d dispatch three large, classified unmanned aircraft anywhere in formation. The risk of a midair would be present, and such an event would be non-career-optimal.
It’s not merely logical to expect that numerous classified aircraft programs exist: it’s almost a necessity under the principle of Occam’s Razor, because if they don’t, you have to contrive some sort of explanation for what Area 51 has been up to all these years.
[I love aviation geeks so much]
The requirements for new super bomber were outright impressive. The aircraft had to possess a 6,000 mile unrefueled range and a weapons load approaching twenty tons. Although extremely low radar reflectivity was paramount, other signature reduction measures, such as masking the aircraft’s infra-red footprint, had to be designed into the airframe as well. These unique requirements, paired with the computer processing power at the time, and the realities of plain old physics, led the teams to venture down similar design paths. In fact, during the design phase of the program a DoD official involved with the Pentagon’s ATB project office saw a model of Lockheed’s concept while at the Skunk Works plant in Burbank, CA and asked how they got their hands on Northrop’s design! The combination of the long range, heavy payload and low observability requirements ended up funneling both teams’ design processes into a similar space. This is also an eye opening indication of just how challenging designing an aircraft with these capabilities and aerodynamic demands truly was at the time.
Regardless of similarities, each aircraft was actually quite unique. Lockheed’s design was code named “Senior Peg” and Northrop’s design was code named “Senior Ice.” Senior Peg was clearly a Skunk Works product of the time period, with many features of the F-117A scaled up and blended into a flying wing-like planform. Faceted cockpit windows, and a highly raked frontal fascia with flat upper fuselage segments and mesh covered engine inlets were present. The wings of the aircraft resembled modern unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) of today, with less sweep then the aircraft’s forward fuselage. Yet the most unique thing about Lockheed’s flying wing design was that it had a small “V” tail mounted on a short boom that emerged from the back of the fuselage. The concept looked strange to say the least, but it reflected Lockheed’s design strategy, to make the aircraft as cheaply and small as possible while still meeting the program’s minimum design requirements.
The dispute began in 1991, when then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney canceled the $4.8 billion stealth attack aircraft, run by General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas, which has since been acquired by Boeing. It was terminated in part due to the government’s conclusion that contractors were not meeting cost and schedule targets. The Navy demanded that contractors repay $1.3 billion to the government.
The prime contractors sued the government, arguing the government should make penalty payments because the contract was canceled for “convenience,” not a failure to perform. The case festered in the court system, eventually reaching the Supreme Court.
In 1999, as the case was bound for federal claims court, Michael Mancuso, who was General Dynamics’s chief financial officer at the time, said he was “optimistic that a settlement could be reached soon.” That settlement never came to be.
Fourteen years later, another opportunity to resolve the case presented itself. At that time, all three parties had been shackled with significant legal costs for more than a decade. The Pentagon was budgeting $10 million annually for legal fees in this case alone.
[Emphasis added. $10 million times 23 years equals $2.3 billion, which is more than the contractors wanted when they filed their suit (if I recall correctly). In Pentagon dollars, $10 million is a rounding error, and I’m not sure how to account for inflation, but still.]
Boeing and General Dynamics finally have reached an agreement in the longstanding dispute over the cancellation of the U.S. Navy’s A-12 Avenger stealth aircraft program.
The nearly $400 million agreement would bring the case to an end in exchange for in-kind payments from the companies to the Navy. The three parties will ask the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to dismiss the case, according to the Justice Department.
Under the settlement agreement, General Dynamics will provide $198 million in credits to the Navy toward the design, construction and delivery portions of the DDG-1000 destroyer program, according to the company’s third-quarter 2013 earnings statement….
The agreement was contingent upon Congress providing authorization for the deal. That was provided by the fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act passed by lawmakers late last year.
The A-12 case is one of the largest and longest-running military procurement disputes. In 1991, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney canceled the $4.8 billion stealth attack aircraft, run by General Dynamics and McDonnell Douglas, which has since been acquired by Boeing, in part due to the government’s conclusion that contractors were not meeting cost and schedule targets. The Navy demanded that contractors repay $1.33 billion to the government.
The prime contractors sued the government, arguing that they were due penalty payments because the contract was canceled for “convenience,” not a failure to perform, and the court case has festered in federal dockets. In 2011, the Supreme Court weighed some secrecy and contracting elements of the litigation and sent it back to lower courts.
Passenger airliner and solar eclipse. May 2012, Kanarraville, Utah. (by Mike Killian; via Air & Space Magazine)
The rollout of the Northrop B-2 bomber on November 22, 1988, was a big deal. Fourteen years after the word “stealth” first crept into print, nobody had seen what a stealth aircraft looked like, without having signed a scary non-disclosure agreement — with the exception of a single horrible-quality photo of the F-117 that had been released two weeks earlier, and a single (even uglier) artist’s concept of the B-2 itself. The list of rules for media attending the rollout was long and restrictive but most of us were glad to attend.
Aviation Week’s West Coast technical editor, Mike Dornheim — at the time, my frequent and annoyingly well-connected competitor — was not impressed by all the restrictions. The media at Palmdale would see the aircraft from only one angle and would be confined to the bleachers. Details of the exhaust system and the exact plan view of the aircraft would be concealed. On the day, the security perimeter around Air Vehicle 1 would be patrolled by lean, mean-looking guard dogs.
But the security was tight in only two dimensions. Mike’s recreations were motorcycling and flying small airplanes, and it was through the second of these that he realized that nobody had thought to close the airspace over Palmdale.
So it came to pass that the rest of us were gathered at Palmdale in a holding area, before being led to the rollout site, and I recall someone asking “Where’s Dornheim?” The answer would have been plain to anyone who looked upwards during the ceremony to spot a Cessna 172 orbiting in lazy circles, with Mike in the left seat and photographer Bill Hartenstein acting as Reconnaissance Systems Operator on the right.
[Aviation Week is in nostalgia mode and I love it. A .pdf of the B-2 rollout article is linked for download.]
For countless generations, anyone expressing incredulity or skepticism could rely upon the phrase “I’ll believe that when pigs fly.” By absurdly granting the common pig, perhaps that most earthbound of animals, the gift of flight, the maxim became a plainspoken, potent expression of the impossible.
And then this happened. (Cute Overload)
About 50 years ago, Aviation Week’s editor, Bob Hotz, set up a meeting with senior U.S. Air Force leaders. He told them that the magazine had a pretty good idea of what Lockheed’s Skunk Works in Burbank had been up to in the preceding couple of years — based on pilot eye-witness reports and other sources — and while he had no intention of risking national security, neither was he going to be scooped by his competitors. That story is here, as well as in Central Intelligence Agency documents.
No damage was done to security. The Soviet Union already knew about the project, as MiG-25 designer Rostislav Belyakov stated quite firmly in his history of the bureau’s designs. The notion that the Russians had continued building the Foxbat to defend against the B-70 Valkyrie, long after it had been relegated to experimental status, is CIA CYA.
The USAF, in any event, did not think that the aircraft could be kept secret once it was in service. The much less obtrusive U-2 had been rumbled within weeks of its first overseas deployment. The result was a coordinated disclosure in February 1964, in which the Pentagon issued a deliberately misleading announcement that obscured the new aircraft’s mission, misstated its designation, identified its secondary customer as the primary one, contained one factual error that had to be rectified by dispatching two secret aircraft hurriedly to Edwards AFB, and was accompanied by two side-view-only photos that had the world’s aviation press scrabbling to guess at the plan-view, mostly with a remarkable lack of success. (That was great fun for an eight-year-old, in love with aviation.)
In a detailed report in the Nov. 4 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Senior Editor Guy Norris lifts the wraps on the SR-72’s cutting-edge design, including a propulsion breakthrough that would allow the aircraft to fly twice as fast as the Blackbird — six times the speed of sound — but still take off from and land on a runway like a conventional aircraft. Lockheed Martin and partner Aerojet-Rocketdyne have been working in secret for seven years on the concept, which centers on integrating an off-the-shelf turbine with a scramjet to power the aircraft from standstill to Mach 6.
[It crashed Aviation Week’s servers]
[A wide-ranging essay on how drones intersect with technology, combat, intelligence, the laws of war, and more.]
How should we feel about drones? Like any wartime innovation, going back to the slingshot, drones can be used badly or well. They are remarkable tools, an exceedingly clever combination of existing technologies that has vastly improved our ability to observe and to fight. They represent how America has responded to the challenge of organized, high-level, stateless terrorism—not timidly, as bin Laden famously predicted, but with courage, tenacity, and ruthless ingenuity. Improving technologies are making drones capable not just of broader and more persistent surveillance, but of greater strike precision. Mary Ellen O’Connell says, half jokingly, that there is a “sunset” on her objection to them, because drones may eventually offer more options. She said she can imagine one capable of delivering a warning—“Come out with your hands up!”—and then landing to make an arrest using handcuffs.
Within a year, a pair of souped-up $2.7 billion blimps (price includes R&D) will be floated 10,000 feet above the District of Columbia and act as a 340-mile-wide eye in the sky, detecting incoming missiles and the like.
The design and testing phase for JLENS—the (deep breath) Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, produced by Raytheon, a major weapons manufactuer—is over, relays Program Director Doug Burgess to Popular Mechanics. Now, it is time for implementation.
Egyptian protestors shine laser lights on a military helicopter flying over the presidential palace in Cairo, on June 30, 2013, as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gather during a protest calling for the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images; via In Focus)
(Source: The Atlantic)