Super-Secret U.S. Spyplane spotted

Recent photos of a high-flying V-shaped jet shows that some pretty interesting new aircraft are just around the corner.

Aviation Week & Space Technology

The Air Force has long debated how to conduct penetrating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions since the venerable, high-speed SR-71 retired in 1998. But despite the need and a lingering requirement, no visible progress toward that goal was made. That’s because the highly classified aircraft – the RQ-180 – has been developed by Northrop Grumman in secret.

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In the Dec. 9 issue of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Senior Pentagon Editor Amy Butler and Senior International Defense Editor Bill Sweetman reveal the existence of the black-world aircraft now flying at Area 51.

Aviation Week worked with artist Ronnie Olsthoorn to construct concept images of the RQ-180 based on its attributes, including its “cranked kite” design.

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In 2009-10, as the RQ-180 neared flight-testing, shelters were built over ramps and engine test pits in Palmdale, Calif., where classified aircraft are developed.

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Completed between 2006 and 2009 and shielded from view behind an earthen berm, this hangar at Area 51 is most likely the home of the new aircraft.

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Bill Sweetman

As far as I know, this sort of thing has happened only once since 1956.

 That was when British magazines started getting eyewitness accounts and grainy photos of the Lockheed U-2, then operating out of RAF Lakenheath on its first spy flights over the Soviet Union. Classified programs have been exposed in all sorts of ways since then – for example, the A-12 Blackbird was disclosed under a degree of pressure – but until the RQ-170 Sentinel was seen at Kandahar in 2007-09 there has been no such aircraft photographed before it was declassified. (And in the case of the RQ-170, the operational security people were not trying too hard.)
With that in mind, let’s look at the photos taken by Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett of an aircraft seen over Amarillo on March 10.
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There is speculation that the aircraft is either the RQ-180 or the SR-72. Pictured below.
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The Lockheed Martin SR-72 is a conceptualized unmanned, hypersonic aircraft intended for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance proposed by Lockheed Martin to succeed the retired Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

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