Northrop Grumman "RQ-180"

Flyaway

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I guess this is Shikaka’s lair:

13°37'55.1"N 144°51'57.2"E
Yeah, home away from home. There was a drive story about a corridor being opened up to the pacific from Area 51 recently. I think it said it was for 'high speed' but I wonder if it was actually to get this out to Guam?
It’s being tested in theatre so to speak then.
 

coanda

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I guess this is Shikaka’s lair:

13°37'55.1"N 144°51'57.2"E
Yeah, home away from home. There was a drive story about a corridor being opened up to the pacific from Area 51 recently. I think it said it was for 'high speed' but I wonder if it was actually to get this out to Guam?
It’s being tested in theatre so to speak then.
See my re-write to correct myself, but yeah I would say its way past initial testing and in use operationally. The early morning times on the way out of the SCS suggest it was there for the previous day - 40 hour flight time? something like that?
 

In_A_Dream

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I was under the impression that these types of flights used a corridor near northern China since the IADs is lighter up there and it's closer to the sensitive PLA testing facilities.

If the picture is authentic, it could very well be part of the aggressive posturing going on between the US & China.
 

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Flyaway

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It’s certainly not hiding now with those contrails. Does that mean partial declassification is close I wonder, after all the RQ-170 put in a few appearances before it was revealed.
 

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Heading Southwest from Sorsogon would give a nice view of the Spratleys Islands to the side looking sensors while staying roughly above Palawn island.
 
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Flyaway

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On Dreamland some are saying it’s Chinese. But I thought their flying wings were still in development and not operationally deployed?
 

flateric

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On Dreamland some are saying it’s Chinese. But I thought their flying wings were still in development and not operationally deployed?
Or we just don't know. But I doubt it's Chinese as I doubt they have engines for high-altitude ISR platform (yet).
This one has very distinctive broad central wing section with unproportionally looking thin wing consoles that pretty match 2020 sighting
 

Flyaway

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On Dreamland some are saying it’s Chinese. But I thought their flying wings were still in development and not operationally deployed?
Or we just don't know. But I doubt it's Chinese as I doubt they have engines for high-altitude ISR platform (yet).
This one has very distinctive broad central wing section with unproportionally looking thin wing consoles that pretty match 2020 sighting
From your first statement does that preclude it using a derivative of the F135, could that be adapted for such operations?
 

Bhurki

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On Dreamland some are saying it’s Chinese. But I thought their flying wings were still in development and not operationally deployed?
If you give it the benefit of doubt of being chinese, then you'll also have to concede that it flew over US airspace last year, which imho is quite a stretch.
 

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On the other hand, US air defences have seen much better days, so I wouldn't rule it out just yet.
 

Bhurki

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On the other hand, US air defences have seen much better days, so I wouldn't rule it out just yet.
Nearest chinese airfield from US mainland coast is 6000+ miles away, so yeah, nope.
If china does have such a platform, then the first sightings will be from Taiwan, Japan, India, Australia and probably Guam, if not from Chinese mainland itself.
 
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Grey Havoc

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The PRC has bases and/or available staging areas a lot closer than that these days, I believe.
 

Josh_TN

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The PRC has bases and/or available staging areas a lot closer than that these days, I believe.

Nothing they’d park a black project in, I’d wager. In any case, the challenges and risks associated with operating a cutting edge UAV over opponent airspace on the other side of the world are sufficiently problematic we can probably dismiss the idea of RQ-180 flying over the PRC, let alone the PLAAF running an equivalent over the US.
 

In_A_Dream

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The PRC has bases and/or available staging areas a lot closer than that these days, I believe.

Nothing they’d park a black project in, I’d wager. In any case, the challenges and risks associated with operating a cutting edge UAV over opponent airspace on the other side of the world are sufficiently problematic we can probably dismiss the idea of RQ-180 flying over the PRC, let alone the PLAAF running an equivalent over the US.
This isn't anything new, our government has a risk appetite for it in the interest of National Security. But it's most likely not the USAF conducting the operations.
 

Josh_TN

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The PRC has bases and/or available staging areas a lot closer than that these days, I believe.

Nothing they’d park a black project in, I’d wager. In any case, the challenges and risks associated with operating a cutting edge UAV over opponent airspace on the other side of the world are sufficiently problematic we can probably dismiss the idea of RQ-180 flying over the PRC, let alone the PLAAF running an equivalent over the US.
This isn't anything new, our government has a risk appetite for it in the interest of National Security. But it's most likely not the USAF conducting the operations.
The only US aircraft I know of that crossed the USSR were U-2s and the D-21, and the US shootdown of the former was rather embarrassing (and I seem to recall the Soviets recovered parts of the latter). I can't picture an RQ-180 operating directly over the mainland. Ignoring political factors, having the Chinese recover any part of it were it to go down for any reason would probably compromise a lot of technology.
 

coanda

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The PRC has bases and/or available staging areas a lot closer than that these days, I believe.

Nothing they’d park a black project in, I’d wager. In any case, the challenges and risks associated with operating a cutting edge UAV over opponent airspace on the other side of the world are sufficiently problematic we can probably dismiss the idea of RQ-180 flying over the PRC, let alone the PLAAF running an equivalent over the US.
This isn't anything new, our government has a risk appetite for it in the interest of National Security. But it's most likely not the USAF conducting the operations.
The only US aircraft I know of that crossed the USSR were U-2s and the D-21, and the US shootdown of the former was rather embarrassing (and I seem to recall the Soviets recovered parts of the latter). I can't picture an RQ-180 operating directly over the mainland. Ignoring political factors, having the Chinese recover any part of it were it to go down for any reason would probably compromise a lot of technology.
I thought I'd read about photo recon Voodoos crossing in to the USSR? No?
 

mkellytx

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The only US aircraft I know of that crossed the USSR were U-2s and the D-21, and the US shootdown of the former was rather embarrassing (and I seem to recall the Soviets recovered parts of the latter). I can't picture an RQ-180 operating directly over the mainland. Ignoring political factors, having the Chinese recover any part of it were it to go down for any reason would probably compromise a lot of technology.
IIRC the D-21 was not intentional, it was meant for Lop Nor, malfunctioned and flew into the USSR, at least according to Ben Rich in Skunk Works. As others have stated there were other incursions and shoot downs before Gary Powers.

Back on topic, a few thoughts. I see the photos and wonder if they're pulling a RQ-170 type acknowledgement. Second some of the reports indicate there was an international exercise in the area at the time and the there's now an integration effort underway with combined forces.

My $.02
 

Archibald

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It's a very complicated and tortured history: there was a "before / after" the U-2 (1950-1955 then 1956-1960), and then of course FG Power was shot down (1960) and only border penetration flights happened afterwards.

Note that as late as 1978 IRIAF RF-5s and RF-4s penetrated Soviet airspace at extreme risks for the CIA - Project IBEX and DARK GENE. They took some losses.
ROCAF did a similar job over the PRC from 1958 to 1968, taking severe losses. The ROCAF / PRC air war was quite crazy.

RQ-180 make some sense as a U-2 & SR-71 successor in the strategic reconnaissance role. It is a mix of stealth & drone, just like Ryan AQM-91 and Lockheed D-21B were back in the day: 50 years ago.
Basic lessons
- ultra-high speed is too expensive and complicated even today: it is not possible to evade something S-300 or S-400 through speed.
Note that in 2007 an AEGIS ship was used to shoot a satellite, and it also has capability against IRBMs and ICBMs. Against such systems, an airbreathing vehicle (SR-72, is that thou ?) whatever its speed has no chance of survival.
- stealth can afford to be subsonic and thus much less expensive to procure and sustain over the long term
- drone technology has matured at least, in the 90's - thanks to GPS guidance - so no need to risk a pilot.
In the 60's without GPS drones had to rely on INS (gyroscopes) that drifted across flight time and distance, up to 2 miles. Star trackers were used to try and correct that drift, but that wasn't enough. In the case of AQM-91, the guidance system all by itself was so tricky and cost so much, it sunk the program. GPS by comparison has become dirt cheap - even if it has its own flaws.
 
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durscher_image.png


IMG_20210911_091239.png


As viewed from below, that could match the recent observation...
 

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Is it correct about "RQ-180"? :)
If you are asking whether it is really called the RQ-180, then that is up for debate. Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine insisted that at least one of his sources called its the RQ-180. That designation makes little sense, even if the design was implemented after the RQ-170 Sentinel. The only reason the sentinel is called the RQ-170 is because it began as the P-170, a typical in-house designation from the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. (Think of the P-175 Polecat) Someone just removed the P and stuck an RQ on the official designation when it went operational. (Think of X-35 vs. F-35)

The new stealthy UAV was built by Northrop Grumman so it should have its own unique designation. Then again, maybe someone got lazy (or clever). Aviation author Chris Pocock prefers to call the new UAV the P-ISR (Penetrating-Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), a term that was used to describe the platform in declassified briefings.
 

Whisperstream

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The B-21 companion has been publicly spotted more times than the F-117 companion, lol.
Companion?
The B-21 was designed to be one part of a "family of systems" that fulfill various recce/strike roles. Analysts judge the "RQ-180" to be the penetrating ISR component of this family.
 

quellish

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This pic was taken on Saturday Oct 30th 2021 at the Groom Lake back gate.

View attachment 667127

A couple of interesting things...
- It was flying on a Saturday, which is unusual. Groom Lake is typically closed on weekends.
- The observers heard it
- The observers and photos show a contrail

The observers were able to use the lens settings, etc. of the photo to estimate the distance to the aircraft, and from that the altitude. The "RQ-180" supposedly has a wingspan of 130'. If the aircraft in the photo has a wingspan of 130' it is flying at over 60k feet. At 60k it would be very unusual for it to be creating a contrail or be heard. On the other hand, if the aircraft in the photo is closer to 75' wingspan it could be flying much lower, 40k or less where it could create a contrail and may be heard.

It looks a lot like Polecat. The overall configuration is what you will get if you try to design a VLO flying wing (4-spikes), so that is not very telling. The exhaust placement is very much like Polecat. And it may be the size of Polecat.

It may be an entirely different aircraft than "RQ-180". Or much of the information reported in the press about "RQ-180" may be incorrect.

At this point though who else wants to start an RQ-180 instagram account? If NG sends a cease and desist that might confirm the program exists!
 

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Exactly, and the family of systems concept isn't necessarily new, just new branding. There have always been support aircraft (although less fully integrated) fulfilling various roles in missions. The gap in USAF EW escorts for stealth and non-stealth aircraft has always been a big "Look at me, Look at me!" for the inquisitive aero-nerds.
 

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