The analysis of the photos shot by Douglass and Muskett showed something interesting: the aircraft was almost boomerang shaped and, based on the contrails, it was equipped with two engines (or at least two exhaust nozzles).
Therefore, the one you can see in this post is a possible shape of a large 6th Generation (probably manned) aircraft, seen over Amarillo; a Black Project, inspired by the B-2 Spirit and F-117 Nighthawk, with inputs from more recent UCAVs designs.
Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett were taking photos at Amarillo when they spotted the contrails of some mystery aircraft. What did they shot flying over Texas?
The images you can see in this post were taken in the afternoon of Mar. 10, 2014. Steve Douglass and Dean Muskett, along with other fellow photographers were at Amarillo International Airport when they saw the contrails of three high flying aircraft.
Even though the aircraft were barely visible at distance, the photographers pointed their lenses at the unidentified planes, and took several shots.
As Douglass recalls in his blog, it was only when they reviewed the images that they noticed that the aircraft were not B-2s as they initially thought: “At one point the aircraft had banked and the trailing edge was quite clear. It wasn’t straight but had a slight curve, the aircraft was almost boomerang shaped.”
Indeed, an inquiry to Whiteman Air Force Base has ruled out the possibility that a flight of three B-2s was flying over Texas on Mar. 10.
Stealth expert Bill Sweetman and the rest of the AW&ST team have investigated the mystery aircraft sighting, coming to the conclusion that the photos show something real.
Noteworthy, after completing a second autonomous arrested landing on the carrier, a third landing was aborted as the X-47B self-detected a navigation computer anomaly and diverted to a landing field.
According to the Navy, the UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) was about four miles aft of the ship, with arrestor hook and landing gear down, when one of its health check on its subsystems revealed a computer anomaly.
Hence it decided, without any human intervention, to wave off (meaning to abort the landing attempt), flew past the carrier and reported the problem to the remote controllers who directed it to a shore landing airfield.
Image credit: U.S. Navy
Two things are worth a mention.
First, the new U.S. Navy’s killer drone detected a problem and made the proper decision before the humans discovered it, improving the mission safety.
Second, what if the drone had autonomously made the wrong decision?
On Dec. 1, the “nEUROn”, the technology demonstrator for a European UCAV (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), made its first flight from Dassault Aviation company’s flight test base in Istres, France.
Image credit: Dassault Aviation
The nEUROn, a project involving France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, had rolled out on Jan. 20, 2012, after five years of design, development, and static testing.
With a length of 10 meters, 12.5 meters of wingspan and an empty weight of 5 tons, the first stealth combat drone developed in Europe has a shape that reminds that of the American X-47B. But, unlike the U.S. killer robot that the U.S. Navy is preparing to launch from aircraft carrier, the nEURONn is only a full-scale technology demonstrator (powered by a Rolls-Royce Turbomeca “Adour” engine) for an UCAV and will not be produced in series.
Image credit: Dassault Aviation
Still, UCAVs developed from the nEUROn concept will be much more advanced than the current “Predator-class” Unmanned Aerial Systems, that in the MQ-1 and 9 (Predator A and Reaper) variants have been intensely involved in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya.
After its maiden flight, the nEUROn will be involved in a testing campaign in France until 2014, when it will be deployed to Vidsel range, in Sweden and then to the Perdasdefogu range in Italy, where its stealthiness and capability to drop PGM (Precision Guided Munitions) through the internal weapon bay, will be evaluated.
Naval Air Systems Command (US Navy) has announced on its website that the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance has “identified a need for an aircraft carrier based aircraft system providing persistent Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR).”
It is thought that the US Navy is to release its requirements during December for the new aircraft, to be named Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance & Strike (UCLASS) . It is thought that the requirements will ask that the UCAV will need to be able to fly 2000 nautical miles from the carrier and carry a suite of weapons and sensors or a mixture of both. The aircraft would need to have stealth capability to penetrate hostile airspace and then send back the data its sensors have collected. Then, if necessary, they would have to destroy selected targets.
Many companies are developing their take on the UCLASS requirements. Lockheed Martin with their Sea Ghost UAS, Boeing (tweaked X-45C), Northrop Grumman (X-47B) and General Atomics (Sea Avenger) are the other leaders in the race to place a UAS on the decks of US carriers by 2018.
This may seem an aggressive schedule but the technology has also been tested to land a UAV onto the Deck of a carrier. Hence, it will be more than likely a case of modifying an existing design for the carrier operations.