The aircraft might be the Lockheed Martin’s design for the NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance) or some other secretive program.
On Jul. 1, 2023, Lockheed Martin’s official account posted an interesting Instagram story to celebrate the 80th anniversary of its famous Skunk Works advanced projects division. Among the aircraft silhouettes shown in the IG story, there is one that really struck everyone’s attention: the one of an unknown, clearly manned next generation aircraft.
In May this year, the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs announced that the Department of the Air Force has begun to solicit proposals for the 6th generation NGAD fighter that will replace the F-22 with the intent to award a contract in 2024. The NGAD Platform is one of many critical combat capabilities that will enable counter-air missions with the ability to strike both airborne and ground-based threats to achieve air superiority and support the Joint Force. The next generation aircraft will also cooperate with autonomous unmanned aircraft, being developed as part of the dedicated Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program.
According to Secretary Kendall, the U.S. Air Force should procure 200 NGAD fighters along with 1,000 CCA, autonomous drones that will cooperate in the “loyal wingman” role with the sixth-generation combat aircraft within a “system of systems” that see the fighters cooperating and interconnected with other assets (including F-35s), satellites, a secure combat cloud network, air defense nodes and so on.
At least one full scale NGAD demonstrator has been flying in secret at least since 2020. Then, in 2022, The War Zone spotted another tailless, delta-wing aircraft in satellite imagery of Area 51 that may well be related to the NGAD program. There are also a series of interesting sightings across the U.S. observed in 2014 that are still unexplained.
Yesterday we finally got a first look at the B-21 (https://t.co/GFqpXmaPcB) that will fly for the first time in 2023. What puzzles me is that we still don’t know which aircraft flew over Amarillo and Wichita in 2014. (Story here: https://t.co/25v5yhIsM8) pic.twitter.com/0lUQ9a2mDk
— David Cenciotti (@cencio4) December 3, 2022
All that being said and considering also that Northrop Grumman also teased the shape of their notional NGAD-like concept in a recent video, it seems reasonable to believe that the one shared on social media is, if not the shape of the LM’s submission, at least something related to it. However, it’s important to highlight that the aircraft might still be something else.
In terms of planform and shape, this 6th-gen design is similar to previous designs released by Lockheed Martin, showing a tailless design (considered ideal to obtain very low observability) with a diamond-shaped wing planform with straight leading and trailing edges. The engines are fully contained in the fuselage, with only two bulges denoting their position on the upper fuselage. As many low-observable designs, the exhaust is located on the upper surface of the rear fuselage, shielding almost completely the infrared signature of the two-dimensional diamond-shaped nozzles. The air intakes are not visible, as they are mounted below the fuselage, flush with the joint between wing root and fuselage, as it could be seen in an older frontal rendering of the almost identical design.
Based on the silhouette shared on social media, video creator and DCS World gamer AD_FOX2 (@aviationdesigns_mg) created the interesting rendering that you can find in this article. It’s totally notional (including the two-tone grey camouflage color scheme), still pretty cool.