An unknown aircraft of an unusual shape was spotted at one of the secret facilities of the U.S. Air Force. For several days it was in an open area, after which it departed in an unknown direction. The characteristic appearance of the product indicates that it was built according to some new project. According to some assumptions, the aircraft may be related to the U.S. Air Force Sixth generation aircraft – Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) also called F-X or Penetrating Counter-Air (PCA).
Information about the new aircraft was published on February 2 by a U.S. publication – The Drive / The War Zone. Using satellite imagery from Planet Labs, the author studied the Groom Lake airbase, also known as Area 51. At one of the airbase sites, curious activity was noticed, as well as an unknown aircraft.
A few years ago, a large hangar of unknown purpose appeared to the southwest of the runway – its coordinates are 37°13’07.3″ N 115°47’56.6″ W. Vehicles were regularly noticed next to it in the past, but an aircraft was not spotted there. The situation first changed a few weeks ago when a satellite image was published on January 26.
The photo showed an object standing on a taxiway a few dozen meters north of the hangar. Due to the image’s low resolution, the object looked like a dark spot on a light background. The object remained in its place in the following days, which was recorded by the satellite.
On January 29, Planet Labs took a high-resolution photo that answered some questions and left new ones. It turned out that there was a light polymer shelter on the taxiway. The transparent material roof showed an unusual aircraft inside.
On January 30 and 31, the plane in the shelter again hit the satellite lens. The following picture from Planet Labs dated February 2 showed that the light hangar was no longer there. Apparently, the plane was taken away in an unknown direction the day before.
A new type of aircraft
The aircraft was built according to the “flying wing” or “tailless” design, as seen in the low resolution image. A large swept wing was used. It has a broken leading edge (a zig zag break in the leading edge). The wingtips have a rounded and pointed edge design and are bent upwards.
Based on other objects nearby, The Drive estimates the length of the aircraft at 65 feet (19.5 m) and the wingspan at 50 feet (15 m). Other geometric and technical parameters cannot be established from the photos. It is also impossible to determine the presence or absence of the cockpit, the composition of the propulsion system, etc. Possible ranges of flight performance also remain in question.
The futuristic appearance of the aircraft from “Area 51” is speculated to be of the next 6th generation fighter. It is known that work has been going on in the United States on NGAD for several years, and from time to time, some details are revealed. In particular, artist impressions were published.
These impressions show non-standard “flying wing” schemes with swept or triangular planes. They have contours and features characteristic of stealth technologies, carry special weapons, etc. The secret plane from Groom Lake airfield, with some reservations, is quite similar to some of the artist’s impressions of NGAD.
Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD)
The goal of the NGAD project is to create a fighter with enhanced performance and improved combat qualities. It is also possible that fundamentally new solutions will be implemented that potentially change the definition of tactical aviation.
In September 2020, the Pentagon said that the NGAD project had successfully reached the stage of flight testing of a prototype. The mock-up aircraft’s desired capabilities, appearance, and design characteristics have not been disclosed yet.
Desires and opportunities
The USAF has repeatedly mentioned its plans for the next-generation fighter, but the full list of requirements, if any, has not yet been disclosed. The aircraft from “Area 51” meets some of the design requirements.
The future NGAD may have dimensions and combat weight at the level of existing fighters. The U.S. may add stealth against all known detection tools. As per the U.S. budget documents, NGAD must have high flight performance, particularly the possibility and practicality of creating a hypersonic aircraft capable of flying at high altitudes up to near space.
Depending on the level of technology development, NGAD will be permanently or partially manned. The aircraft will receive advanced electronics with artificial intelligence (AI), which will process all incoming data and solve some of the tasks. NGAD may reduce the pilot workload in a manned version of the fighter. AI may control the unmanned version.
The aircraft also requires various surveillance and detection tools and may use passive systems that do not expose the fighter. Data exchange for receiving or transmitting target designation will remain of great importance – the aircraft will become a full-fledged cog of a network-centric system.
In the early stages, the new fighter-bomber may use existing or futuristic means of defeating traditional munitions and missiles. It may use built-in laser systems for this purpose.
The Groom Lake base prototype clearly has dimensions and internal volume. The plane’s appearance allows obtaining high flight characteristics, including supersonic speed. It can be assumed that some new systems and devices are already being tested on a prototype, including providing fundamentally new functions and capabilities.