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Author Topic: TR-3 "Black Manta"  (Read 17536 times)

Offline FighterJock

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TR-3 "Black Manta"
« on: May 01, 2014, 09:23:12 am »
Anyone on this forum got this months Combat Aircraft?  There is a fascinating news article about the Mystery Aircraft and what it could be,  and the general feeling is that it could be the TR-3 Black Manta aircraft that was developed alongside the F-117, but I am still going along with the theory that it is a brand new aircraft that has some how managed to get caught out in the open.
« Last Edit: May 06, 2014, 11:43:24 pm by PaulMM (Overscan) »

Offline Sundog

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2014, 10:12:12 am »
...the general feeling is that it could be the TR-3 Black Manta aircraft ...

As has been pointed out Ad Infinitum, there is no TR-3. TR-3 was just someone misunderstanding Tier-3.

Offline xstatic3000

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2014, 10:18:46 am »
and the general feeling is that it could be the TR-3 Black Manta aircraft that was developed alongside the F-117

***Facepalm****

Offline FighterJock

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2014, 11:07:41 am »
...the general feeling is that it could be the TR-3 Black Manta aircraft ...

As has been pointed out Ad Infinitum, there is no TR-3. TR-3 was just someone misunderstanding Tier-3.

So what was Tier-3?  Another program or something else...? :o

Offline xstatic3000

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #4 on: May 01, 2014, 11:13:09 am »
...the general feeling is that it could be the TR-3 Black Manta aircraft ...

As has been pointed out Ad Infinitum, there is no TR-3. TR-3 was just someone misunderstanding Tier-3.

So what was Tier-3?  Another program or something else...? :o

http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,511.0.html

Offline FighterJock

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #5 on: May 01, 2014, 11:20:47 am »
...the general feeling is that it could be the TR-3 Black Manta aircraft ...

As has been pointed out Ad Infinitum, there is no TR-3. TR-3 was just someone misunderstanding Tier-3.

So what was Tier-3?  Another program or something else...? :o

http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,511.0.html

Thanks Xstatic3000, that topic was done before I was an active member on this forum so I did not know what the Tier-3 was.

Offline Skyblazer

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #6 on: May 01, 2014, 01:41:49 pm »
...the general feeling is that it could be the TR-3 Black Manta aircraft ...

As has been pointed out Ad Infinitum, there is no TR-3. TR-3 was just someone misunderstanding Tier-3.

Well, that's the story that was conveniently invented by the DoD to cover up a boo-boo made by an official in an interview published in AW&ST circa 1992.

I have my doubts. And even if it was true, no "Tier 3" program was ever acknowledged either. There were Tier 2, Tier 2+, Tier 3- but no "Tier 3" as such. Since Tier 3- (minus) was about the RQ-3A Darkstar and RQ-4A Global Hawk, if there ever was a "Tier 3" or TR-3 program going on, as the interview suggested, it must have been bigger and more technologically advanced than any of these.

Offline xstatic3000

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #7 on: May 01, 2014, 02:06:09 pm »
Tier III was apparently either the scaled down follow-on to the QUARTZ HALE UAV, or possibly QUARTZ itself, active during the 1992-1993 timeframe. To my knowledge, it has never been officially acknowledged, and there are conflicting reports as to whether or not any hardware was ever produced.


Probably the best source of information anywhere on the entire AARS program is the thread that I quoted a few posts above.

Offline Skyblazer

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #8 on: May 01, 2014, 02:15:17 pm »
I wish I could get my hands on that AW&ST interview. Back then I was in shock on reading it, especially since "TR-3A" had already been mentioned in several publications as depicting a tactical reconnaissance vehicle dubbed the "Black Manta" and now there was an insider mentioning the "TR-3" in passing. I was also  stunned that no-one seemed to comment on the man's slip of the tongue (some readers probably did but I guess there must have been a consensus not to dwell over it further—perhaps pressures from the DoD to pretend nothing happened?).

Offline Skyblazer

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #9 on: May 01, 2014, 02:19:12 pm »
Already mentioned and posted in another topic here, a 1993 artist's depiction of the would-be TR-3A "Black Manta":


Offline PaulMM (Overscan)

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #10 on: May 01, 2014, 07:33:05 pm »
I wish I could get my hands on that AW&ST interview. Back then I was in shock on reading it, especially since "TR-3A" had already been mentioned in several publications as depicting a tactical reconnaissance vehicle dubbed the "Black Manta" and now there was an insider mentioning the "TR-3" in passing. I was also  stunned that no-one seemed to comment on the man's slip of the tongue (some readers probably did but I guess there must have been a consensus not to dwell over it further—perhaps pressures from the DoD to pretend nothing happened?).

"TR-3" was Tier-3. A secret, stealthy, long range, high altitude, technically ambitious, UAV role/requirement. Think UAV U-2. It was apparently too costly and canned. Tier-3 minus was a reduced cost, less ambitious requirement that then was also canned.

Some journalist(s) heard about "Tier-III" verbally from sources and transcribed it as "TR-3" by analogy with the TR-1/U-2.

Someone accidentally mentioned Tier-III in an interview. AWST transcribed it as TR-3.

It is still largely secret, so not much in the public arena.

It was never a manned stealth aircraft.

It is possible that a Tier-3  secret, stealthy, long range, high altitude, technically ambitious, UAV exists as a black project. I don't think so, but it could. This would still not be a TR-3.
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Offline Mike OTDP

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #11 on: May 01, 2014, 07:35:33 pm »

So what was Tier-3?  Another program or something else...? :o
Different program.  High altitude, long-endurance, LO UAV.  The projected costs got into the B-2 ranges, so DARPA got Tier 2+ (high altitude, long endurance) and the Tier 3- (LO) programs going.  RQ-4 and RQ-3, respectively.

Offline Triton

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #12 on: May 01, 2014, 08:19:30 pm »
Thanks for the explanation, Paul, concerning TR-3 and Tier 3. I was embarrassed to ask about it further.

Offline quellish

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2014, 02:04:37 pm »

I have my doubts. And even if it was true, no "Tier 3" program was ever acknowledged either. There were Tier 2, Tier 2+, Tier 3- but no "Tier 3" as such. Since Tier 3- (minus) was about the RQ-3A Darkstar and RQ-4A Global Hawk, if there ever was a "Tier 3" or TR-3 program going on, as the interview suggested, it must have been bigger and more technologically advanced than any of these.


Tier III is actually mentioned in a number of public US government documents and was an acknowledged set of requirements. A quick search yields a number of documents on DTIC:
http://www.dtic.mil/get-tr-doc/pdf?AD=ADA366229
http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a337401.pdf
http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a422835.pdf
http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a538761.pdf
(and many more)


AARS was an intelligence community program. QUARTZ was the high altitude, long endurance, very low observable UAV component. It had a very aggressive set of requirements for it's time. Very low signature from multiple aspects - designing a VLO ISR platform is much more challenging than a penetrating striker. Very high degree of autonomy - remember, in the 80s (as well as today) most unmanned aircraft were remotely piloted. QUARTZ would have been capable of autonomous operation from takeoff to landing, in very aggressively hostile threat environments.


QUARTZ got too expensive, and the it's primary mission (SIOP support) was de-prioritized. The QUARTZ requirements, however, were still relevant. Even as QUARTZ was cancelled the requirements for persistent, penetrating long endurance ISR remained. DoD and the intelligence community aggregated UAV work under DARO at this time, and the requirements had been divided into three "tiers" of capabilities. Tier I (continue/expand CIA Gnat 750), Tier II (build on Gnat 750 with what became Predator), and Tier III (QUARTZ, cheaper). Unfortunately Tier III was still too expensive, though at the time (1993-1994) it was realized that the hardest requirements were only needed for a fraction of the missions. Thus Tier III requirements were divided into Tier II+ (high altitude, long endurance, not stealthy) and Tier III- (high altitude, long endurance, stealthy).


The full Tier III requirements remain unsatisfied.


The "TR-3" legend is itself an interesting story.


Around 1990 the book "Stealth Technology: The Art of Black Magic" was published. It contained a section on the "Northrop Tactical Stealth Aircraft". This section seemed to be based partly by AvWeek reporting in the early 80s of Northrop working on a fighter sized stealth aicraft (which was probably TACIT BLUE). "The Art Of Black Magic" claimed 100 of these aircraft had been made, and that one was responsible for the 1986 crash near Bakersfield.
In part of the book dealing with unmanned aircraft the Tactical High Altitude Penetrator is described as being a UAV concept that carried an internal weapon. A drawing of the THAP is included, and the text says "THAP is thought to have been built by Northrop and test flown from Groom Lake flight test facility on the Nellis Air Force range since 1983".


For those not familiar with the book, it is full of questionable material.


Several years after this was published there were reports in Aviation Week of triangular aircraft over the Mojave desert, sometimes seen with F-117s. Aviation Week speculated that these were "TR-3" aircraft built by Northrop and were based on THAP. This appears to have been based on the material in "The Art of Black Magic". I would have to find a copy of the article, but I believe this also contained a sketch of the THAP concept that was almost identical to the one in "The Art of Black Magic".


As it turns out, there is nothing connecting Northrop to THAP. The Tactical High Altitude Penetrator concept was actually published in a Flight Dynamics Lab publication in the late 70s/early 80s. The drawing in that document was clearly the source for the "The Art of Black Magic" sketch. The FDL drawing shows not only an internal bomb bay, but a pilot. It also shows design heritage that does not appear Northrop at all, but much more consistent with Ryan's Low RCS Vehicle studies. Long ago I scanned this drawing and made it available on teh interwebs, it's since spread around quite a bit.


So what it seems happened here was this:
- The author of "The Art of Black Magic" saw the FDL Tactical High Altitude Penetrator concept in a public document associated with FDL/AFRL work on RCS reduction.
- The author of "The Art of Black Magic" created a connection between AvWeek reporting of a Northrop stealth project and THAP.
- AvWeek collected reports of triangular aircraft seen with F-117s.
- When AvWeek asked someone about triangular aircraft, "Tier 3" was misinterpreted as "TR-3"
- AvWeek published the article reporting "TR-3" as a THAP-based Northrop ISR product working with F-117s to explain the Mojave sightings, using "The Art of Black Magic" as a source.
- ...
- A legend is born!


The "TR-3" is the result of some bad information and conjecture that has grown over time into it's own legend.

Offline Meteorit

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Re: TR-3 "Black Manta"
« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2014, 03:03:54 pm »
An excellent sum-up, quellish. Thanks!