Tag Archives: Skunk Works

Here’s why the U.S. should restart the F-22 Raptor production line instead of developing a sixth generation fighter

With some tweaks the F-22 Raptor can maintain the edge over the future fighters the U.S. adversaries are developing.

The development of a sixth generation fighter should not be a top priority for the U.S Air Force given that, according to Rob Weiss, executive vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works division, regular updates to the F-22 and F-35 would keep the edge of the current U.S. stealth fighters over China’s and Russia’s future fifth generation warplanes.

Weiss recently told to DefenseOne.com, that these aircraft already enable the U.S. to have a distinct advantage over the capabilities its adversaries are developing and that a replacement for today’s F-22 and F-35 fighter jets isn’t needed anytime soon: “We’ve done this analysis for more than a decade now and it’s clear that the fifth-generation F-22s and F-35s are very capable versus a threat and substantially more capable than any fourth-generation airplane. There’s, in our view, little point in developing a new airplane that doesn’t do anything more than what you can do as you modernize F-22s and F-35s.”

Instead the Pentagon should invest in developing “truly game-changing technologies and capabilities” that will be part of the future sixth-generation fighter whose development, added Weiss, should start in a decade or more from now.

On the contrary, the U.S. Air Force is already procuring the ultimate future fighter that will eventually replace the Raptor under the so-called Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.

But, assuming that a new fighter would require no less than twenty years to be developed, restarting the F-22 production line would be for sure a more cost-effective move for the service.

The procurement of additional Raptors would also make the JSF more capable, given that as we have already explained, the Air Force said that without the support of a dedicated air superiority fighter such as the F-22, the F-35 would be irrelevant.

Furthermore reopening the Raptor production would give the chance to fix the few shortcomings the aircraft has.

For instance, thrust vectoring (TV) wasn’t a strictly needed feature since it could bring some stealthy trade-offs to the airframe of an aircraft built to achieve most of his kills silently. Moreover, although during within visual range (WVR) engagements TV can be very useful to put the F-22 in the proper position to score a kill, it requires an appropriate use to prevent the Raptor from losing energy and becoming very vulnerable.

Eventually a helmet-mounted display (HMD), which the aircraft still lacks, coupled with the recently integrated AIM-9X missile, could equally turn the F-22 into a lethal dogfighter, given that the HMD would enable the pilot to exploit the full High Off-Boresight (HOBS) capabilities of the weapon.

Fixing the F-22 shortcomings and then restarting its production line would be the best solution for the U.S. Air Force also according to Jamie Hunter, editor of Combat Aircraft Monthly, who wrote on the December 2015 issue of the magazine: “How about a risk-reduced approach for NGAD? Take the almost perfect Raptor and put it back into production, albeit this time with the tweaks that make it truly the best fighter ever can be. That approach may just help mitigate against the early cost over – runs and delays – and provide capability faster and when it’s needed.”

F-22 Vs Sixth Generation fighter

Image credit: Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard / U.S. Air Force

[Photo] SR-71 Blackbird and chase car

Here is a unusual shot of the legendary SR-71 Blackbird

This image was recently released by Beale Air Force Base official FB page.

It was taken years ago, when the SR-71 was still in service and shows a Blackbird taxing behind a Chevy car (a follow me, more than a standard “chase car” like those supporting the U-2 Dragon Lady and the RQ-4 Global Hawk).

The Mach 3+ black plane is barely visible, but the scene is both unusual and stunning.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo by John Schwab

 

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Lockheed Martin releases new High Speed Strike Weapon hypersonic missile concept image

Last week Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works acknowledged the existence of an SR-71 Blackbird, capable to fly at hypersonic speed with a dual ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) and Strike capability, dubbed SR-72.

In accordance with the new slogan “speed is the new stealth”, Skunk Works is studying high Mach systems that would give platform equipped with these weapons the capability to strike heavily defended targets, quickly and undetected.

Among LM’s hypersonic programs focusing on both “expendable missiles” and “reusable aircraft”, the High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW), “a hypersonic missile concept suitable for future bomber and fighter aircraft” was not a secret.

However, there was only one HSSW concept image available.

Until Lockheed Martin released the one you can see on this post that is a bit more detailed (if any detail can be gathered from a rendering) than any previous one.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

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Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works reveals a Mach 6 strike successor of SR-71 Blackbird dubbed SR-72

It looks like Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, the legendary division that designed airplanes which represented a giant leap for their times such as the F-104, the U-2, the Blackbird family or the F-117A stealth fighter jet, has eventually revelead to AW&ST’s Guy Norris the existence of a project for an Hypersonic strike aircraft dubbed SR-72.

“After years of silence on the subject, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. Dubbed the SR-72, the twin-engine aircraft is designed for a Mach 6 cruise, around twice the speed of its forebear, and will have the optional capability to strike targets.”

AW&ST has the detailed story of the new platform, that guided by the X-51, Falcon HTV-2 and other hypersonic development programs on which U.S.’s perspective strike capability is being tailored, will be capable to hit or perform ISR of fast-moving targets, located in high-lethality areas at intercontinental ranges.

Interestingly, a Lockheed SR-72 concept image was released. The shape is coherent with the most recent hypersonic designs and it is quite similar to at least one of those published in April 2013 on LM’s Code One article about the configurations studied since the early ’60s for an SR-71 Blackbird replacement.

Noteworthy, the shape and operational speed of the U.S. next generation strike bomber is much different from Russia’s next generation stealth strategic bomber PAK-DA concept.

SR-72 new

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

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Two former Skunk Works members seem to know why the F-35 program is a mess

Among the contents of the November 2012 issue of Classic Aircraft (a magazine that since Jan. 2013 has been incorporated into its sister magazine Aviation News), an interesting article written by Angus Batey gives an exclusive overview about the birth of the legendary Lockheed’s Skunk Works division.

The father of this facility was Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, one of the best aircraft designer in the aviation history.

He created the Skunk Works with the aim to develop some of the most revolutionary military aircraft following a concept: a project would have turned into a great aircraft if only few qualified people had worked on it.

Thanks to this rule the Skunk Works division designed airplanes which represented a giant leap for their times such as the F-104, the U-2, the Blackbird family or the F-117A stealth fighter jet.

In Batey’s article some of the people who contributed to create these classified concepts and former Skunk Works members also explain which are the main differences between the rules followed by Lockheed during the development of the above mentioned aircraft and the rules followed by Lockheed during F-22 and F-35 development: these differences may be among the reasons which led to the problems of the last two US (multirole) fighter jets.

F-35

According to Batey, Alan Brown, a British guy who joined Lockheed in 1960 before joining the Skunk Works in 1975 and being involved in the Have Blue and F-117 programs, had “a simple algebraic formula”:

[…] “the time it takes to go from initial design to operational use by the Air Force is directly proportional to the size of the Air Force oversight committee that’s guiding the airplane design. For the F-117, the Air Force team was a colonel and six other experts-the corresponding team on the F-22 was 130. And if you ratio 130 over seven, you’ll get just about the ratio of the time it took from starting the airframes to getting them in service,” Brown explained.

Bob Murphy, who joined the Skunk Works in 1954, managed flight-test on the U-2 and became deputy director of operations, illustrated the troubles faced by the Joint Strike Fighter to Batey.

“Because of bureaucracy”, […] “once you get all these organizations involved-all the different Air Force bases across the country, and every contractor that makes a screw for the airplane-when they have meetings, everybody comes to every meeting, and nothing ever gets settled. It’s crazy! If you’ve got 300 people in a meeting, what the hell do you solve? Nothing,” Murphy stated.

But F-35’s cost overruns and slippage were are also due to the philosophy which brought to the three different F-35 versions, as explained again by Brown:

“In the mid-1960s, there was a proposal by the Secretary of Defense to combine the F-14 and F-15 programs, so we did some analysis”, […] “the Air Force wanted 200 F-15s and the Navy wanted 200 F-14s.

If you designed an airplane for each individual service to do what they wanted, each airplane would weight about 40,000lb, but if you combined them so one airplane could do the job that was needed for each service, the weight suddenly went up to about 70,000lb-and back then it was generally accepted that airplanes cost about a thousand dollars per pound of weight.

The cost savings on producing 400 of one airplane rather than 200 of two was about 10 percent, so it was clearly much more cost-effective to have two separate airplanes doing their own job best.

So how we manage, on the F-35, to suddenly reverse that idea is not clear to me.”

It’s a shame that the experience made on some of the most advanced and adveniristic projects ever made in aviation history did not guide LM and the U.S. Air Force and Navy through the development of the Lightning II.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this article.

F-35B NVG

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

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