RQ-170 musings - food for thought perhaps?

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Message posted by Smythers on May 20, 2019 at 12:03:11 PST:

I was looking at some RQ-170 pics from the first days of it getting caught in the open, all the way to the latest pics, and I want to offer up some musings, maybe open a few avenues for discussion.

V-Indictaor, Lockheed Martin, 1980s.

Laser V-Indicator to get rid of pitot tubes for LO airframes. We see the last of these on the F-22 \ F-35. On the RQ-170 they are missing, but there are two small apetures on the leading edge, like small windows. Windows that happen to exactly match the drawings and photos released from white world sources developing this very same laser airspeed technology.

Then we see an RQ-170 on the tarmac on an island location, and these windows have gone from being on the right leading edge to one either side of the nose. This is exactly the same as a British Aerospace research into the same field (LASSI was the project name) and the British use ultra violet lasers to bounce light off the air molecules and this works down to extremely low speeds, perfect for take off and landing. This became public in 2016.

After this? We see the V'berg RQ-170 with a pitot tube and some weird leading edge materials and a flat underwing panel. The leading edge apetures have vanished on this airframe - which I theorise is because I am correct about the laser airspeed equipped leading edge. Having removed it to test this new airframe, they neeed a conventional replacement.
Then I saw a photo of the V'berg RQ-170 on the ground and it miles apart from what was seen before. The colour was a deep three tone grey camouflage, but the grill was a deep almost burnished copper hue. On the intake leading edge was two small apetures. Apetrues that seemed to have moved from the wing to the vertical intake region.

I then did some digging around these weird leading edge treatments, and went back as far as 1999 and the efforts in universities to make small X-band radars that would take the loads a classical leading edge material could. I dug around and found a piece by a leading aviation group who specialise in such fabrication. When did they expect it to be in full service? 2016. On what platform? J-UCAS for both air to air AND air to ground missions. The descritpion? Identical to that which is now flying on the RQ-170 that live and work in V'berg. Leading edge and one underwing panel.

Not wanting to leave it to chance that this could just be an amazing coincidence, I went back once and again and dug into the J-UCAS effort to see what technology they were working on, and lo and behold, Raytheon had this penned in not only for sensorcraft, not only for J-UCAS, but also for fighters and bombers that would need the capability. Again, it was stated they would have it ready in 2014 for aircraft up to bomber sized efforts. They have even gone as far as saying it could be in vertical surfaces such as the body!

Sadly, we all know what happened next for J-UCAS and the X-45 / X-47B/C efforts. Into the shredder. A terrible waste but that is the DoD for you. Then whilst flicking through the files, I found that on twitter of all places, Boeing put up a post about a new 'worlds first' flat panel UAS satellite comms system to replace the typical dome on low observable airframes - this made me chuckle as one such system is already in flight on the UK Taranis (Look half way down the body either side of the intake. You will see the two flat panels flush to the skin) Then it hit me. This very same effort was part of the active skins for creating a truly low observable long loitering airframe with a greatly reduced signature, and now they went public with it.

So, my thoughts are thus: The original sandy RQ-170 is a test bed pressed into service after being dug back up from a dusty shelf. It is old, as old as the Vindicator effort from Lockheed (Which is only a few years younger than the F117) but was found to be an asset that had some use although it is a one third scale test airframe from what lockheed (In my opinion) intended to develop. I think this may be true from their offering for what turned into the MQ-25 after having lost the RQ-180 flyoff (Head designer of General Atomics is on record stating they are not into the penetrating low observable market such as the RQ-170 & 180 systems as they couldn't compete in those fields).

So back to the 170. It is active at V'berg, it is flying around with skins and panels that literature shows have a very good probability of being the skins J-UCAS were slated to have had integrated into their systems. Skins that were to be on LO airframes that could go into harms way and target air and ground vehicles in a stand off hand off manner, letting manned assets stay out of the worst of the IAD zones.

I guess time will tell if my mad ramblings are true or not, but the V'berg 170s are not the slap dash sandy cobbled together offerings that were seen in Afghanistan and over Iraq (Or for that matter, what are seen at TTR!) These are sleek, sensor covered beasts with some serious upgrades. I think we may have had a glimpse into the B-21's 'family of systems' and a 'Loyal Wingman' type effort may indeed be part os said family, equipped with radars that could target enemy aircraft that are searching for the bomber itself.

Thank you for reading through my ramblings, I hope they at least provoke some thought into the matter - because I honestly believe we have seen an expotential leap in technological capability for unmanned airframes and it has slipped right through the attention net of most aviation watchers.


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