The Top-Secret Warplanes of Area 51

Stealth jets? Hypersonic bombers? What's really being developed at the military's most famous classified base?

The black airplane world has, without question, produced the most significant advances in aviation technology. In the 1950s, it spawned the U-2 spyplane, which flew higher and farther than anyone had thought possible. It gave birth a decade later to the SR-71 Blackbird, the exotic, revered speed king. It also produced the slow but stealthy, origami-like F-117 fighter.

But for aerospace sleuths, there´s been little activity recently in the form of declassified vehicles that might hint at current efforts. (Classified programs can be unveiled to aid in broad combat deployment or when the technology appears in other programs.) The F-117 came out of the black world during the first Iraq war 15 years ago, and only three aircraft have been introduced since. One was Polecat. Another was Northrop Grumman´s ungainly reconnaissance aircraft Tacit Blue, nicknamed â€the Whale.†The third was Boeing´s Bird of Prey, which tested visual stealth strategies, including shaping that minimizes shadows and contrast and, rumor has it, body illumination that allows it to blend into its background.

This dearth of unveiled prototypes does not mean, however, that the black-aircraft community is dormant. In fact, all signs point to steadily increasing activity. Google Earth reveals a newly constructed additional runway and multiple new hangars and buildings at the base. The usual vague, untraceable allocations in congressional budgets that often signal classified programs are on the rise, and modern technological innovations are now enabling aircraft designs that might have floundered in the black world for years. Further, there are significant gaps in the military´s known aviation arsenal-gaps that the Pentagon can reasonably be assumed to be actively, if quietly, trying to fill.

The need for such secrecy is simple: It is essential to preserving technological surprise. The Pentagon wishes to prevent enemies from developing strategies to counter the technology. The challenge is to figure out what precisely is happening-without betraying national security-because the bigger the black world gets, the better it conceals its activities. What follows is inescapably an educated guess, arrived at by analysis of the available evidence, at the tantalizing designs being cooked up on the sly at Area 51, including a radical special-forces transport, a stealthy UAV, an agile new bomber, and my own white whale-the mythical, hypersonic dragster and presumed source of those faux earthquakes: Aurora.



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5 Comments

Comments

DontheDon
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well, it's NOT what YOU think, after all, is it? It's what THEY think, isn't it?

if they think it is a security risk, then it is....unless you somehow manage to go before a JUDGE...then it is his/her call....assuming that he/she isn't in THEIR pocket....and remember, when you ASSUME...you make an ASS of U and ME.

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duncaniowa
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Hardly. The aircraft they let us see are not the dangerous ones anyway. One would imagine that the real military intelligence types around the world do not rely on Popular Science for their information.
That being said, I enjoy your magazine, and have for years.

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toysoldier5
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The entire country should know everything that's going on at Area 51 and in the intelligence community too.
How can you have a democracy if you don't know what's going on?
Democracy--that's what we're about. Let's make it transparent.

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ad101867
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toysoldier:

You don't have a clue what you're talking about. Sure, democracy is generally about openness for the sake of the public good. But even in everyday life we don't tell all our secrets to each other. Why would you expect the government to tell all its secrets?

You assume that literally everything there is to know OUGHT to be known by everyone. That's a false assumption. Do you think the public should have access to your bank records, social security info, etc.? Of course not. Why not? For the sake of your own security and legal identity.

Now translate that to whole nations: why would governments want to keep some things secret? For the sake of SECURITY. And this is perfectly rational. Therefore your assumption is NOT rational.

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David.Grindel
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Come on get a life. Project Blue Book, Area 51 wanna be Trekkies. There are some things that the general public just doesn't have a need to know. If you did & had the clearance maybe we could share something. Live Long & Prosper -- just leave the spooks alone.

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