Re: Peter's new "Dreamland" book

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Message posted by Vahe Demirjian (Member since 04/28/2022) on December 25, 2023 at 15:14:10 PST:

The book "Dark Eagles" by the late Curtis Peebles has one chapter devoted to USAF evaluation tests of captured and defected MiGs in Nevada and discusses the HALSOL solar-powered unmanned air vehicle in another chapter (which also describes the Amber UAV program), but a treasure trove of info on the history of the evaluation of Soviet warplanes in Nevada and flight tests of the HALSOL has come to light since the publication of the book "Dark Eagles" in the 1990s. It's quite heartening that you explained why MiG and Sukhoi combat jets evaluated in Nevada were given cover designations in the pre-1962 F-for-Fighter series because the origin of the F-117 designation for the Nighthawk once puzzled me given that the F-117 is not a jet fighter.

Although photos of the Northrop Grumman "RQ-180" during flight testing are waiting to be publicly released, I'm glad that you've shed new light on the "RQ-180" because even though Bill Sweetman and Amy Butler wrote articles in Aviation Week and Space Technology dropping hints about Northrop Grumman developing a UAV to fill the P-ISR role once occupied by the SR-71, the "RQ-180" has only been implicitly alluded to by USAF officials or mentioned in passing in almost certainly owes its design heritage to one of the Northrop Grumman designs conceived as part of the AFRL-sponsored SensorCraft program.

Having cross-referenced your historical narrative in the book about the BSAX requirement that led to the development of the Northrop Tacit Blue with the chapter about the Tacit Blue in the 2020 book "Stealth: The Secret Contest to Invent Invisible Aircraft", it is now obvious that: (1) Northrop had a competitor for the BSAX contract; (2) Lockheed was the first US aerospace manufacturer to propose a flying wing with LO tech; and (3) early Lockheed Senior Peg designs were influenced by Lockheed's faceted BSAX designs, of which the initial design had a V-shaped tail.

The passage about the Quartz unmanned flying wing in Chapter 9 should give aviation gurus with an interest in 1990s rumors about the US Air Force having deployed a hypersonic spyplane a clear idea of what kind of SR-71 follow-on was truly being contemplated by the US intelligence agencies and US Air Force in the 1980s. Bill Sweetman and a few others noted that the operating cost of the SR-71 was far less than that of a spy satellite launch, and thus disputed official statements by the US Air Force about the SR-71 being retired due to high operating costs and a new generation of spy satellites making the Blackbird redundant, and the 2010 monograph "Air Force UAVs: The Secret History" builds upon Sweetman's opinion about why the SR-71 retired by noting that Defense Department official Keith R. Hall, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 15, 1993 that development of the Quartz UAV prior to its cancellation in December 1992 led to the SR-71's retirement because the Quartz had a real-time data link to provide images to field commanders, something the SR-71 lacked when it was retired in March 1990. There were press reports in the late 1980s making implicit reference to the Quartz program (as pointed out to me by quellish), and even if Sweetman got it wrong when he suspected that the USAF was deploying a hypersonic replacement for the SR-71, at least the Quartz program made him correctly hint that the Air Force might have had a new spyplane in the pipeline because the SR-71 was still very expensive to maintain/operate in 1989 and the US Air Force in the late 1980s and early 1990s saw the Quartz as a viable SR-71 replacement because the Quartz would have served as an operational conduit between spy satellites and field commanders in terms of using a data link to provide images of enemy territory to field commanders.

Given that the RQ-170 Sentinel was tested in secret at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada and I recently learned that William Scott relied on Joseph Jones' 1989 book "Stealth Technology: The Art of Black Magic" when he wrote rumors about the alleged "Black Manta" tactical reconnaissance flying wing in a June 1991 Aviation Week and Space Technology issue, it's no surprise that you did not include the "Black Manta" rumors in your book "Dreamland: The Secret History of Area 51" because Jones wrongly claimed that Northrop won a production contract for 100 tactical stealth aircraft and that the THAP was a Northrop proposal (the Northrop Tacit Blue was still classified at the time that Scott cooked up the "Black Manta" rumors, although aviation press reports in the 1980s made implicit reference to the Tacit Blue). The RQ-170 thus constitutes the kind of true stealthy battlefield surveillance aircraft which the Tacit Blue would have been had it gone into production.

You and I hope that after reading this book, anyone who grew up with 1990s rumors about a hypersonic spyplane being deployed by the US Air Force and those wondering why the Nighthawk was given an F-series designation despite being a tactical strike aircraft will take heed of the fact that the codename Aurora was related to funds for procurement of the B-2 Spirit and also be dumbstruck to learn that the Nighthawk was called F-117 for security reasons because Skip Anderson wanted to hide the F-117's true combat role and cutting-edge LO technology from Soviet intelligence (the Tacit Blue was designated YF-117D despite being a technology demonstrator, but why Tacit Blue was called YF-117D rather than YF-115A is unknown).

In Reply to: Re: Peter's new "Dreamland" book posted by Peter Merlin on December 24, 2023 at 16:54:05 PST:


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