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TR-3 "Black Manta"

FighterJock

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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.
 

Sundog

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FighterJock said:
...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.
 

xstatic3000

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FighterJock said:
and the general feeling is that it could be the TR-3 Black Manta aircraft that was developed alongside the F-117

***Facepalm****
 

FighterJock

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Sundog said:
FighterJock said:
...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...? :eek:
 

xstatic3000

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FighterJock said:
Sundog said:
FighterJock said:
...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...? :eek:

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

FighterJock

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xstatic3000 said:
FighterJock said:
Sundog said:
FighterJock said:
...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...? :eek:

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.
 

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Sundog said:
FighterJock said:
...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.
 

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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.
 

Stargazer2006

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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?).
 

Stargazer2006

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Already mentioned and posted in another topic here, a 1993 artist's depiction of the would-be TR-3A "Black Manta":

index.php
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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Stargazer said:
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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FighterJock said:
So what was Tier-3? Another program or something else...? :eek:
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.
 

quellish

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whiner said:
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.
 

Orionblamblam

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quellish said:
- 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.

You and your "facts" and your "logic..."

Its-Still-Real-to-Me-Dammit.jpg


Seriously, though, good summary. It's a damn shame that debunking is not as effective as bunking.
 

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Agreed - great summary as usual.

I'll argue that this forum is still the definitive resource for open-source information about AARS.
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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I have a copy of the Aviation Week TR-3 article from 1991. Attached.


It is by William B. Scott - with "research assistance by Joseph Jones", the author of "Stealth Technology - The Art of Black Magic". So there's a direct link back to one person.


Reading it, it seems to be essentially talking mixing up scraps of info on Tacit Blue, Tier 3 and unclassified studies into a single aircraft.


THAP drawing:


index.php
 

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CJGibson

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Aye, but who is/was Joseph Jones? I wrote to him via the publisher of his book and got no response. Probably normal situation, but I thought it odd back then.

Chris
 

Stargazer2006

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Not the article I was thinking about. The TR-3 was mentioned briefly in passing in the middle of a long interview by some official.
 

xstatic3000

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I've always been curious about that as well, especially since nothing much has ever surfaced about him beyond what's been posted here. Apparently, he's been derided here as a notoriously poor source of information, going back to the early days of this forum
Andreas Parsch said:
Kelly Bushings said:
Joseph Jones' book "Stealth Technology -the Art of Black Magic" gets a kicking on this forum. 20/20 hindsight methinks.
1) Who was J. Jones?
2) Was it a nom de plume?
3) Did anything in his book turn out to be correct?

1) Self-proclaimed "insider", who was IMHO a bit too confident about his findings and alleged sources ::)
2) Yes
3) In all the speculative paragraphs and chapters, I can't say that he got more correct data than anyone else at that time. He has the usual speculations ("Aurora", "THAP"), plus a few which I haven't seen elsewhere (Northrop "TSA" (Tactical Stealth Aircraft), Lockheed "SCM" (Stealth Cruise Missile)). So far, none of these speculations have have been shown to be accurate. On the other hand, the book doesn't include the slightest hint towards the TACIT BLUE, which was secret then but is no longer now.

Apart from that, I had extensive e-mail contact with Jones around 2002/03, and had to find out that he is a bit too fast with his assertions and speculations (he tried to "sell" me some of his "facts" on aircraft designations - bad idea ;D ). Also, I know that he had completely wrong ideas about the "Bird of Prey" project (claimed - a few years before its revelation - that it involved a heavily modified F-15).

All said, I don't regard J. Jones as a reliable source at all 8).

Regards
Andreas
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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whiner said:
Not the article I was thinking about. The TR-3 was mentioned briefly in passing in the middle of a long interview by some official.


Stephane, if you think about what you are remembering (a transcript of an audio interview, presumably) what do you think the chances are that the official said "TR-3" and not "Tier-3"? I think not very high. If its not clear to a non-native speaker, "Tier" and "TR" are very close phonetically - in New Zealand or South African accents they are almost identical for example. If the AWST person had heard of "TR-3" but not "Tier-3" its an easy mistake to make.
 

overscan (PaulMM)

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It was a reasonable collection of mostly real interesting concept drawings drawn from e.g. AIAA proceedings, Airforce reports, journals like Interavia, Flight, AWST and other non-secret sources, interspersed with rumours, conjecture, and wild speculation.


Possibly some forum members may still be in contact with him.
 

Stargazer2006

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PaulMM (Overscan) said:
Stephane, if you think about what you are remembering (a transcript of an audio interview, presumably) what do you think the chances are that the official said "TR-3" and not "Tier-3"? I think not very high. If its not clear to a non-native speaker, "Tier" and "TR" are very close phonetically - in New Zealand or South African accents they are almost identical for example. If the AWST person had heard of "TR-3" but not "Tier-3" its an easy mistake to make.

At that time I was a regular subcriber of AW&ST and a secret plane geek (and a lifelong designations freak for as long as I can remember). Believe you me, the sight of the designation "TR-3" in that interview is something I can never forget. Now there is of course a definite possibility that it was ill-transcribed by AW&ST and that the official actually said Tier 3, but it did appear in the page as TR-3 all right, a brief mention in passing.

And as someone else put it, even if it was Tier 3 it was still an acknowledgement that such a program was under development.
 

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whiner said:
PaulMM (Overscan) said:
Stephane, if you think about what you are remembering (a transcript of an audio interview, presumably) what do you think the chances are that the official said "TR-3" and not "Tier-3"? I think not very high. If its not clear to a non-native speaker, "Tier" and "TR" are very close phonetically - in New Zealand or South African accents they are almost identical for example. If the AWST person had heard of "TR-3" but not "Tier-3" its an easy mistake to make.

At that time I was a regular subscriber of AW&ST and a secret plane geek (and a lifelong designations freak for as long as I can remember). Believe you me, the sight of the designation "TR-3" in that interview is something I can never forget. Now there is of course a definite possibility that it was ill-transcribed by AW&ST and that the official actually said Tier 3, but it did appear in the page as TR-3 all right, a brief mention in passing.

And as someone else put it, even if it was Tier 3 it was still an acknowledgement that such a program was under development.


AW&ST is an interesting thing. I knew a senior person there back in the early 2000s; he told me in conversation once that the magazine heard lots of interesting little tidbits about this and that off-the-record and without enough attribution to take to press (e.g. hypersonics, black stealthy platforms), but they came from people who would know. And he wasn't the type to pull *my* leg. He also told me that they had real heartburn over a couple of stories that they'd run with and which had been properly debunked.
 

quellish

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PaulMM (Overscan) said:
I have a copy of the Aviation Week TR-3 article from 1991. Attached.

Yup, that's the THAP drawing I got from USAF. The AvWeek drawing appears to be almost directly taken from "The Art of Black Magic".


Jones and his co-author appear to still be around. There are public records of some of their FOIA requests. Interestingly enough, they were at one point fishing for code names from my old web site (and asking the wrong organizations).


If you go through "The Art of Black Magic" you can find many things that yes, in hindsight were way off. At the same time, there is plenty that is internally inconsistent. There is a section on the F-117 and at the same time a section on the F-19, claiming the F-19 is descended from HAVE BLUE while the F-117 is not. And the F-117 is a supersonic low level penetrator with ECM, that there were 75-100 (which was known to be incorrect at the time of publication), etc. etc.
 

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overscan (PaulMM)

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quellish said:
PaulMM (Overscan) said:
I have a copy of the Aviation Week TR-3 article from 1991. Attached.

Yup, that's the THAP drawing I got from USAF. The AvWeek drawing appears to be almost directly taken from "The Art of Black Magic".


Jones and his co-author appear to still be around. There are public records of some of their FOIA requests. Interestingly enough, they were at one point fishing for code names from my old web site (and asking the wrong organizations).


If you go through "The Art of Black Magic" you can find many things that yes, in hindsight were way off. At the same time, there is plenty that is internally inconsistent. There is a section on the F-117 and at the same time a section on the F-19, claiming the F-19 is descended from HAVE BLUE while the F-117 is not. And the F-117 is a supersonic low level penetrator with ECM, that there were 75-100 (which was known to be incorrect at the time of publication), etc. etc.

To be charitable it looks like the entire article was "inspired" by the book.
 

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Sorry to drag this thread even further away from the "mystery aircraft" sighting - but after re-reading the AARS thread, it turns out that there may be just a bit more to the TR-3 legend.


In a thesis written by Dr. Thomas P. Ehrhard, the current Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, he mentions a lower-tech alternative to AARS designated "TR-3". It appears that this was likely the Grob Egret studied under the SENIOR GUARDIAN program:


Mr London 24/7 said:
(pg 151).... Kier mentioned that several other concepts for manned alternatives to AARS popped up in the early 1990s, including a minimalist design called the TR-3 that he derisively called a "Cessna 172 compared to a 747 [AARS]." (Ref 341)


(Ref 341 pg 151) A likely candidate for a program fitting Kier's description was a moderately stealthy (all-composite) high altitude German airframe called Egrett.... Egrett was an optionally piloted 55,000 foot loitering aircraft that went by the codename SENIOR GUARDIAN....


So it appears that TR-3 may have been a potential designation for SENIOR GUARDIAN had it gone into production. Hopefully this, along with the information posted regarding Tier III, will help put the beliefs about it being a stealthy, triangular aircraft to bed once and for all.
 

quellish

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xstatic3000 said:
So it appears that TR-3 may have been a potential designation for SENIOR GUARDIAN had it gone into production. Hopefully this, along with the information posted regarding Tier III, will help put the beliefs about it being a stealthy, triangular aircraft to bed once and for all.


This is one of the instances where I believe that Ehrhard may have been drawing a very tenuous connection. Kier may have actually been commenting on the "TR-3" press reports rather than a program he had personal knowledge of. Unfortunately this happens all too often with secret aircraft programs.


That said, Raytheon operated an Egrett (N520DM) as a test platform for a number of years[/size]. [size=78%]
 

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I see a lot of talk around of a 'F-117 companion' which is basically what the TR-3A was/is rumoured to be.

Maybe such an aircraft or similar actually exists :eek: Would definitely be pretty impressive if such an operational aircraft was kept deep black for such a long time.
 

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quellish

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Mr London 24/7 said:
Talk of a 'TR-3A' or 'F-19' completely discredited all early mention of an F-117 Companion from late-Eighties/early-Nineties (and continues to do so).

However... the former boom operator who has given brief details of such an aircraft on ATS in the last year is the real deal:

http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/confessions-of-a-usaf-kc-135-flying-gas-station-boom-op-1578048155

(See also http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,16089.msg170370.html#msg170370)


The idea that the "TR-3" serves as a high altitude lasing platform for the F-117 is odd. Lasers don't work so well from high altitude, or through weather. The F-117 wasn't designed to hit mobile targets which might necessitate such a "buddy" platform.


Throughout the 80s the press reported that the stealth fighter was the product of the "CSIRS" program (Covert Survivable In-Weather Recce/Strike). When the F-117 was revealed to be a strike aircraft, some people wondered where the covert recce component was. This may have been where the idea of a "buddy" aircraft came from, at least in relation to the "TR-3". Now there is some certainty that there was no "CSIRS" program at all.
 

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Mr London 24/7 said:
Talk of a 'TR-3A' or 'F-19' completely discredited all early mention of an F-117 Companion from late-Eighties/early-Nineties (and continues to do so).

However... the former boom operator who has given brief details of such an aircraft on ATS in the last year is the real deal:

http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/confessions-of-a-usaf-kc-135-flying-gas-station-boom-op-1578048155

(See also http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,16089.msg170370.html#msg170370)


I just re-read the Jalopnik article. Although the mentions of refueling classified and presumably operational platforms were intriguing, I saw nothing that would specifically point to the nature and mission of the aircraft being discussed. I am presuming, based on the context and timeframe that he may have been alluding to some of the "unknown" UAVs (and not UCAVs) sighted over Iraq and Afghanistan during that period.
 

quellish

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xstatic3000 said:
I just re-read the Jalopnik article. Although the mentions of refueling classified and presumably operational platforms were intriguing, I saw nothing that would specifically point to the nature and mission of the aircraft being discussed. I am presuming, based on the context and timeframe that he may have been alluding to some of the "unknown" UAVs (and not UCAVs) sighted over Iraq and Afghanistan during that period.


Actually, there were refueling tests with UCAVs in the western US in the late 90s. The X-45A was supposed to do a set of tests like he describes but I do not believe those ever happened as part of the DARPA UCAV program.
 

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Then I suppose both of you have missed the point: I replied to Black Dog as he is referring to posts made on ATS. My point was that a particular poster there is the source for the jalopnik article. The idea of a companion aircraft has credibility for me due to that one individual. Companion mission is something still only hinted of ('buddy-lasing' is of the TR-3a/F-19 theme).
 

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quellish said:
The idea that the "TR-3" serves as a high altitude lasing platform for the F-117 is odd. Lasers don't work so well from high altitude, or through weather. The F-117 wasn't designed to hit mobile targets which might necessitate such a "buddy" platform.

Throughout the 80s the press reported that the stealth fighter was the product of the "CSIRS" program (Covert Survivable In-Weather Recce/Strike). When the F-117 was revealed to be a strike aircraft, some people wondered where the covert recce component was. This may have been where the idea of a "buddy" aircraft came from, at least in relation to the "TR-3".

http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,20795.msg204336.html#msg204336

I suppose another alternative for the "emitter" could have been a TR-3 type aircraft using a LPI bi-static radar to illuminate/designate targets for a passively observing F-117 / payload combination

However,
  • no evidence of this type of targeting system on the F-117. Although, is it only the weapon that would need the sensor? (e.g no IR system on the F-15 but it uses sidewinders quite successfully)
  • More tellingly....
quellish said:
"Now there is some certainty that there was no "CSIRS" program at all".

... it was in interesting speculation (to me at least) but it seems to be just that
 
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