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US Air Force Confirms New Stealth Aircraft 287

Posted by Soulskill
from the watching-you-from-on-high dept.
DesScorp writes "Aviation Week reports that the USAF has confirmed the existence of a new, formerly secret stealth aircraft, designated RQ-170 Sentinel, developed at Lockheed's legendary Skunk Works. Rumors of a secret new jet have been flying since 2007, with longtime aviation journalist Bill Sweetman dubbing the possible aircraft 'The Beast of Kandahar' because of the urban legend-like reports from Afghanistan. The aircraft is a UAV, a pilot-less drone that appears to have some kind of reconnaissance-only mission for the time being. It's a tailless flying wing that resembles a fighter-sized B-2 bomber."
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US Air Force Confirms New Stealth Aircraft

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  • top secret (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sentientbeing (688713) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @01:27PM (#30336210)
    Theyre just telling us its a secret new invisible jet because they dont want to tell us what theyre really working on
    • Re:top secret (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @01:34PM (#30336286) Homepage

      The fact that this aircraft has been publicly acknowledged suggests that they have something far more advanced that they are not telling us about at the Skunk Works.

      • Re:top secret (Score:4, Informative)

        by Kagura (843695) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:04PM (#30336598)
        In any case, here's a photo [aviationweek.com] of the RQ-170 Sentinel.

        Any ideas on why they need such a secret and stealthy UAV in Afghanistan for? Obviously they weren't too worried about it if this Bill Sweetman guy was able to see it at the Kandahar International Airport.
        • Re:top secret (Score:5, Interesting)

          by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:17PM (#30336734) Homepage

          Afghanistan is a testing ground for the UAV. It is a fairly safe testing ground because the Afghanis do not have anything that has a realistic chance at shooting it down. The fact that it was at an international aeroport suggests that the US does not consider it to be one of their secret planes anymore. It will be interesting to see (five or ten years from now) what the real cutting edge of military aviation is in 2009.

          • Re:top secret (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Goffee71 (628501) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @06:51PM (#30339018) Homepage
            Afghanistan is near to Iran, Pakistan and China, far more useful testing grounds.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by MtViewGuy (197597)

              I believe the RQ-170--especially if it uses the same Rolls-Royce Allison AE3007H engine as the RQ-4 Global Hawk--is capable of cruising at 65,000 feet, with a radar cross section far smaller than even the B-2 Spirit bomber, since the RQ-170 is probably almost the same size as the Global Hawk. From bases in Afghanistan, the RQ-170 could easily fly into Chinese and Iranian airspace with essentially zero chance of being shot down cruising at 60,000 feet, since the plane would be undetectable from radar at its

        • Possible Reasons Why (Score:5, Interesting)

          by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorpNO@SPAMGmail.com> on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:33PM (#30336902) Homepage Journal

          Any ideas on why they need such a secret and stealthy UAV in Afghanistan for? Obviously they weren't too worried about it if this Bill Sweetman guy was able to see it at the Kandahar International Airport.

          One, Sweetman didn't discover it in the field. He was likely first alerted to it when someone sent him the grainy photos of the bird in flight. He's probably the most prominent miltary aviation journalist in the world, so people come to him when they think they've found something secret.

          As to why it's in Afghanistan, that was a puzzle to me to at first, but some very good (and intriguing) theories have come up about it. For one, some note that not everyone in the Pakistani military is reliable in the Afghan war; there's a good chance some members are feeding intel to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It's been suggested that since we've become very dependent on sending Predators and Reapers to hunt the Taliban in the desert, perhaps we don't completely trust Pakistani radar operators anymore. Perhaps we think they're sending what they know to the very people we're hunting.

          Another, even more intriguing possibility, is that China is right next door. And considering the luck we've had with conventional intel aircraft monitoring China [wikipedia.org], perhaps this is our way of keeping an eye on the growing Dragon. However, if we're actually penetrating Chinese airspace, then we're playing a very dangerous, Gary Powers-like game [wikipedia.org].

        • Re:top secret (Score:5, Informative)

          by Kagura (843695) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:41PM (#30336972)
          Here's another photo [aviationweek.com] that is much higher quality.
        • You need to test it somewhere. What better place than where we already have tools doing the exact same thing. You have your satellite, Predator, and ground info to compare this air craft's performance against. Plus, if it's giving good intel, why would you NOT use it? More intel is always better.

          Just as beneficial, we can see if OUR forces can spot it and track it. We've got the damned military out in force, AWACS, ground radar, planes in the air, eyes on the ground looking up. What a great time to

        • by pckl300 (1525891) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @04:34PM (#30338002)

          Any ideas on why they need such a secret and stealthy UAV in Afghanistan for?

          I'm pretty sure we're looking for someone in Afghanistan. I think his name is Waldo.

    • Re:top secret (Score:5, Informative)

      by Penguinisto (415985) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @07:33PM (#30339406) Journal

      Disclosure: I am formerly an F-117 avionics technician, of what used to be the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing at Tonopah Test Range, NV (the original home of the F-117 Nighthawk). That said, I've been a civilian for nearly 20 years, but...

      The USAF 'fessed up to the existence of the F-117 in 1988 (and included a fuzzy-at-best photograph). That was what they were "really" working on at the time. Better stuff (cf. the B-2) came out later, and from other projects. Before 1988, we were considered to be working on an A-7 avionics upgrade program - my old orders still reflect that (while my old training records had a ton of phrases reading "see classified master"). After 1988, the A-7s were quietly sent back to the Arizona boneyard they came out of, and we were officially working on the Stealth Fighter from that point on. There was no "really working on" bit to it - that's what we were doing.

      Now it may or may not be true that they are/were/will-be working on something else. Those may come out in due time, or they may be quietly buried or shelved if they don't work out. Fact is, there may well be more than one project in motion, but the confirmation or denial of those projects simply will not happen unless/until the USAF says something about 'em individually and in particular. Even during my 'tenure', we only knew about our baby - we didn't talk to others about our doings, and they didn't talk to us about theirs.

      Sorry, but that's just the way it is *shrug*. It's weird, it's secretive, and you just got along in spite of it. If I were a betting man, I'd say that the odds were excellent of other projects going on... but you and I won't know about them until the gov't is good and ready to say something about 'em.

  • Heh. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 05, 2009 @01:34PM (#30336284)
    I bet it swoops overhead and downloads child porn to the hard drives of terrorists.
    They have no idea what they're in for.
  • Old news to me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Celeste R (1002377) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @01:39PM (#30336326)

    This craft is also capable of bombing missions, according to the Military Channel's own documentaries on experimental craft. It DOES have a bomb bay and missile mounts.
    The same documentary also said that this craft is capable of completely autonomous aircraft carrier landings, and can even do so in the dark. (a milestone feat in itself, due many factors)
    It's also capable of 24+ hour flight, which is awesome for scouting missions waiting for a mobile target, and is capable of mid-air refueling. (this is a living pilot no-no, and potentially keeps the craft up as long as it needs to be).

    Eventually, this will be flying more than our own pilots will be, due to the fact that pilots cannot be mass-produced. Eventually, we WILL be putting arms on them, even if only because there might not be a good enough alternative.

    Also, rumors about similar tanks are in the works... that are so overengineered that they tried to break it and couldn't (experimental model).

    • by rshol (746340) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @01:48PM (#30336422)
      "Also, rumors about similar tanks are in the works... that are so overengineered that they tried to break it and couldn't (experimental model)." I for one welcome the arrival of the Bolos.
    • and is capable of mid-air refueling. (this is a living pilot no-no

      Huh? We've been doing mid-air refuel for decades.
      • I was referring to the 24+ hour flight.

        I should have clarified, thank you.

        • I was referring to the 24+ hour flight.

          Maybe not 24 hr, but crews did a few 18 hour round trips from Barksdale-Iraq-Barksdale.
        • by Ironsides (739422)
          B-2 has done 50+ hour flights before and routinely does 24+ hour flights. see here [wikipedia.org]
    • by couchslug (175151)

      24+ hour flight is expensive, but not prohibitive for "living pilots" if their bomber can carry extra aircrew.
      B-52s have flown up to 35 hour missions.

      Pilots can be mass-produced. We have a surplus of military aviators. Piloted AIRFRAMES are the limiting factor.

      UAVs are useful because supporting pilots is expensive, and sending CSAR teams to rescue them is extremely expensive when they get shot down. Downed aircrew are a huge political liability when the public expect no casualties and Hollywood outcomes. Pi

    • i'm actually more interested in the paint on the aircraf, FTA:

      Many questions remain about the aircraft’s use. If it is a high-altitude aircraft it is painted an unusual color – medium grey overall, like Predator or Reaper, rather then the dark gray or overall black that provides the best concealment at very high altitudes.

      i know theyve developed asome sort of "radar absorbant" type materials and coatings in the past and i wonder what special coating this thing has. my assumption is that this will probably see lots of service over places like North Korea and possibly China, where these countries spend a good bundle on defense technology. why sacrifice the visual camouflage?

    • according to the Military Channel's own documentaries

      That's roughly as reliable as The Onion or the Weekly World News [weeklyworldnews.com].

    • by Ironsides (739422)

      This craft is also capable of bombing missions, according to the Military Channel's own documentaries on experimental craft. It DOES have a bomb bay and missile mounts. The same documentary also said that this craft is capable of completely autonomous aircraft carrier landings, and can even do so in the dark. (a milestone feat in itself, due many factors)

      Are you sure you're thinking of the RQ-170 and not the X-47B? The two appear to be vastly different aircraft, even if they do look similar.

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @01:50PM (#30336448)

    Looking as cool as an SR-71.

  • X-45 outgrowth? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:07PM (#30336628)
    From the crappy pic at AviationLeak, it looks like it may be an outgrowth of the X-45 [globalaircraft.org] development bird [globalaircraft.org].
    • From the crappy pic at AviationLeak, it looks like it may be an outgrowth of the X-45 [globalaircraft.org] development bird [globalaircraft.org].

      It looks more like the Navy's X-47B [northropgrumman.com], which is also a tailless flying wing. The Navy and NG have been very open about the program, so perhaps that's another reason why USAF felt they didn't have to hide the Sentinel anymore.

  • Makes sense. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:16PM (#30336724) Homepage

    Makes sense. A stealthed recon aircraft should be small. Recon is mostly flying preprogrammed flight paths, so the pilot doesn't make many decisions. Hence a moderate-sized UAV.

    The Air Force guys hate it, but UAVs are getting the job done. The Army is going for more automation; they use autoland on their Predators, and have far fewer crashes than the USAF stick jocks who land the things manually.

    • Yeah you have to feel bad for the pilots. Training your entire life to fly the most awesome machines ever made, and now they are phasing them out in favor of cheap un-manned drones. Hell, they might as well just quit training pilots and just release an XBox flight sim that replicates the capabilities of the drones. Then just recruit the top of the XBox Live leader board. Or they could Ender's Game it and just make the kids fly the things unknowingly... though that might get messy when they put down the con
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Animats (122034)

        There's still a role for air superiority fighters. Even if they're not used much in that role, if you don't have them, the other side has air superiority, which is Not Fun. The USAF likes to say that American troops have not had to fight under a hostile sky since WWII, and this did not happen by accident. They have a point.

        Recon and close air support, though, is going to go UAV. Using an F-16 to take out a truck is not only overkill, you don't have enough fighters to do it very often. The big advant

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by shiftless (410350)

          Recon and close air support, though, is going to go UAV. Using an F-16 to take out a truck is not only overkill, you don't have enough fighters to do it very often.

          Just a nitpick, the role you describe (taking out a truck) is not close air support. I'm guessing you mean like the videos from the Gulf War where they showed a fighter firing a missile to take out a truck in a convoy. Generally those were hits on high value targets, and as you state, unmanned vehicles are perfect for that role. For general convo

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:21PM (#30336778)
    One comment on tfa raised an obvious question: Why deploy an advanced and experimental stealth aircraft in Kandahar against an enemy that doesn't have radar (nor any capability to threaten aircraft)? One clue may be that the closest international border to Kandahar is Pakistan's, and Pakistan certainly does have radar. The next question, about why this story was leaked complete with a picture, might have a related answer: The message is "Fuck you, Pakistan; we'll talk as though we're your friends, but we own your airspace and can see every hair on your bare asses, so don't try anything."
    • by DerekLyons (302214) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (retawriaf)> on Saturday December 05, 2009 @03:03PM (#30337180) Homepage

      One comment on tfa raised an obvious question: Why deploy an advanced and experimental stealth aircraft in Kandahar against an enemy that doesn't have radar (nor any capability to threaten aircraft)?

      For the same reason we use Aegis destroyers against pirates off of Somalia - we use what we have. We don't keep any 18th century sloops around in case we need to go against fishing boats, nor any biplane drones for use in Afghanistan.
       

      The next question, about why this story was leaked

      This isn't a leak - it's an official USAF confirmation.

      • by chill (34294)

        For the same reason we use Aegis destroyers against pirates off of Somalia - we use what we have. We don't keep any 18th century sloops around in case we need to go against fishing boats...

        Hmmm...someone needs to update the AI in FreeCiv. The bots routinely refuse to upgrade caravels even when they have much higher tech.

    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @03:41PM (#30337500) Journal
      The US is more worried about who might control Pakistan tomorrow. The country is in civil war and the government troops are not nearly as in control as they like to claim. And Pakistan got nukes. If its army bases can be attacked, then why not its nuclear facilities? If that happens, well the shit has hit the fan. The US would have no choice to intervene and do it very quickly before India does, nuclear style. And if the US intervenes it would not have time to ask the remaining pakistan goverment for fly-over permission and such.

      The current conflict is a lot more dangerous then a lot of people in the west presume. They see a couple of towelheads shooting an AK-47 in the air or guarding someone with an RPG (really, what are you going to do Einstein, shoot your prisoner with an explosive grenade from 2 meters away?) and think "what danger could they be". Not much. Except in very large numbers to a country where the ordinary soldier is not all that motivated in the first place. And that is what Pakistan faces and the price is a nuclear arsenal that very few people in the world would tolerate even the risk of the Taliban getting their hands on it.

      This ain't a message against the goverment of Pakistan, it is preperation for what goverment there might be in control tomorrow.

    • Of course the most radar invisible super secret stealth aircraft are still vulnerable to the "Put a guy on a hill and have him look up" line of defense. The next pass over that hill will find 20 more guys with stinger missiles (and whatever else we gave them). Eventually one's going to be shot down and we're going to look just as bad as the Russians and their "Great Soviet Helicopters of Awesome"...

      But on the other hand, deploy enough unmanned vehicles (make them cute like wall-e so as to not scare the l
      • I doubt that the "Put a guy on a hill and have him look up line of defense" would work. This thing is 1/3 the size of a 747. Those are painted white most of the time, with shiny aluminum parts. This thing is small, non-reflective and dark colored. Unlike the Soviet helicopters, it can operate far higher up, and won't be trying to land or engage ground targets with lead. The predator UAV, a decade and change in development less mature, operates above 20,000 feet.

        we're going to look just as bad as the Russians

        That, at least, I can agree with. I wonder wh

  • Photo (Score:5, Funny)

    by rlp (11898) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:27PM (#30336836)

    Here's a picture [wikimedia.org] of five of them in action.

  • Is this plane the cause of all the sonic booms that were heard out west a couple years back?
    http://farshores.org/n06boom6.htm [farshores.org]
    or more recent ones:
    http://boingboing.net/2009/03/06/mystery-sonic-boom-i.html [boingboing.net]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Henriok (6762)
      Most unlikey. The design with very long wings and an unremakable engine nozzle suggest that it's strictly subsonic. It seems to be designed for high altitude and to be ale to stay in the air for a long time, not high speed. A supersonic design would probably have a elongated fuselage, shorter, probably delta shaped wings and engine nozzle with variable shape (it could be embedded in the fuselage though).
      • by HornWumpus (783565) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @05:33PM (#30338462)

        Simple rule for supersonic aircraft maximum speeds is to think of a right triangle, one point at the nose, one at the wingtip and the right angle on the center line near the back (in line with the nose and the wingtip).

        The aircrafts maximum speed (in Mach) is the ratio of fuselage length to wing length (minus a little bit).

        The wing tip has to be behind the shock wave generated by the nose.

        This plane is not even fast subsonic by the looks of things.

        This doesn't work for the space shuttle as it's very nose high when at maximum speed but holds for anything up to an X-15 or SR-71.

  • BWB (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @03:31PM (#30337422) Journal
    Ok, so we have loads of experience with Blended wing bodies in the military. How about applying that tech back to the BWB and getting it built. It can be used for Tanker, Cargo, and even bombers for the military. Likewise, it can be used for freight airlines. Then over time, we will see the regular airlines pick this up, put cargo on the outer edges and avoid the issues with having a regular airline pick it up. Why? Because it will use 30-50% less fuel.

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