USAF Unit Moves Reveal Clues To RQ-180 Ops Debut

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Unread post24 Oct 2019, 09:36

Gets a bit secret-squirrel but more at link:

USAF Unit Moves Reveal Clues To RQ-180 Ops Debut

Oct 24, 2019

Guy Norris | Aviation Week & Space Technology

Secret Service

Almost six years after Aviation Week first disclosed the existence of a large, classified unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman, there is a growing body of evidence that the stealthy vehicle is now fully operational with the U.S. Air Force in a penetrating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role. Thought to be dubbed the RQ-180, the advanced design is believed to have been flying since 2010 and under operational test and evaluation since late 2014. According to new information provided to Aviation Week, the aircraft became operational with the recently reformed 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn. at Beale AFB, California, this year. The Air Force declined to comment on the status of the program. ...

... Developed to conduct the penetrating ISR mission that has been left unaddressed since the retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 in 1999, ...

At the same time [fiscal 2007], Air Force funds were transferred into a classified high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) program which, it is believed, led to a competition between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Northrop also publicly discussed a range of longer-winged X-47C configurations around this time. The largest of these was a 172-ft.-span design with two engines derived from General Electric’s CF34 and capable of carrying a 10,000-lb. weapon load. ...

... Additional evidence now suggests the final configuration may be closer to the company’s more familiar flying-wing designs, with a simpler trailing edge similar to that seen in the Air Force’s official rendering of the B-21 Raider. ...

... The RQ-180 design also was likely strongly influenced by Northrop Grumman’s work for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) SensorCraft project, aimed at developing technologies for future stealthy, high-altitude unmanned surveillance platforms. In 2002, AFRL unveiled several SensorCraft vehicle studies, including a Northrop Grumman flying wing with a highly loaded airfoil capable of handling large aeroelastic deflections. Two years later, the company revealed it was partnering with AFRL to mature advanced conformal antenna integration technology for SensorCraft under a five-year, $12 million effort called the Low-Band Structural Array (Lobstar) program. At the time, the company said Lobstar would “enhance the surveillance capabilities of aerial vehicles by embedding antennas in the primary load-bearing structures of composite aircraft wings.

[An embedded VHF to upper-HF band stand-off surveillance radar in a VLO HALE drone? Nice option for theater tracking of J-20, for F-22A and F-35A/B/C to engage.]

In 2007, following a year-long Air Force HALE contest, Northrop signaled it had been successful when the corporation’s leaders reported they expected to win a major restricted program. By June of that year, observers of the Air Force’s top-secret Area 51 test complex at Nellis AFB, Nevada, noted that construction was underway for a new large hangar at the “Southend” zone of the Groom Lake facility. The size and dimensions of the building suggested it was being made ready for an aircraft with a relatively large span wing. As the new Groom Lake hangar neared completion in early 2008, Northrop Grumman’s financial reports revealed the company had been awarded a large classified aircraft development contract valued at $2 billion for an operational ISR UAV with an unprecedented combination of extreme low-observable (LO) features and aerodynamic efficiency. The development effort was undertaken by Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Technology Development Center, the equivalent of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works or Boeing’s Phantom Works. ...

... Although the Air Force has made no reference to operations by the unit involving any particular aircraft type, the 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn., together with Detachment 5 of the 9th Operations Group and Detachment 3 of the 605th Test and Evaluation Group, hosted the opening of a new Common Mission Control Center at the base on April 23. The the new center will “provide combatant commanders scalable, tailorable products and services for use in contested environments,” the Air Force says. “Using software, hardware and human machines, the center will be able to manage C2 productivity, shorten the task execution chain, and reduce human-intensive communication. ... -ops-debut
Accel + Alt + VLO + DAS + MDF + Radial Distance = LIFE . . . Always choose Stealth

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