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Monday, Jul 15, 2024

Unmanned Spy Plane Eyeing A.V.?

A top secret spy drone built for the U.S. Air Force could be landing in the Antelope Valley. That is, if the military and Northrop Grumman Corp., which makes the RQ-180, ever admit the plane exists. Much of what is known about the secretive unmanned craft with a 130-foot wingspan was published in the Dec. 6 issue of Aviation Week. Northrop and Air Force representatives did not speak on the record about the aircraft. The article reported that publicly available images taken at Northrop’s Palmdale facility showed “new shelters and hangars” capable of accommodating an aircraft with the wingspan of the RQ-180. Officials at Northrop, based in Falls Church, Va., would not even confirm new hangars have been built in Palmdale. The RQ-180 represents a new generation of unmanned aircraft that uses stealth technology to avoid detection. It is similar in size and range to the Global Hawk – the unmanned plane Northrop builds in Palmdale – which can stay aloft for 24 hours and fly 1,200 nautical miles, Aviation Week said. The plane also reflects a shift in drone strategy by the military. Unlike the current fleet operating over countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan which lack an air force, the RQ-180 could fly reconnaissance missions over contested airspace. Michael Blades, a senior industry analyst in aerospace and defense at the Mountain View office of Frost & Sullivan, a research and consulting firm, said the RQ-180 represents the future of unmanned aircraft, given its capability to fly undetected on long missions. The aircraft could be the precursor of a long-range strike bomber that uses stealth technology and has the option of being flown remotely or by a pilot. “They want an unmanned B-2 (Spirit stealth bomber),” Blades said. “My guess is this is the first step toward that.” – Mark R. Madler

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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