New Drone Pushes the Limits of Stealth & Aerodynamics
Kyle Maxey posted on December 09, 2013 |

stealth, classified, drone, surveillance, SR-71, U-2According to recent reports, Northrop Grumman has developed a new classified drone for the US Air Force. Named the RQ-180, the stealthy craft is designed to fly undetected through enemy airspace and conduct reconnaissance missions, similar to its predecessors the U-2 and SR-71.

While details are still sparse about the new drone, defense officials have confirmed that the RQ-180 will carry radio frequency sensors; radar and passive electronic surveillance measures; and possibly be capable of conducting electronic warfare from within its “cranked-kite” airframe.

Although the RF-180 shares a common airframe design with the recently tested X-47B, the new craft will have an even smaller radar cross section and a more aerodynamic body, lending the drone “sailplane-like” efficiency.

To achieve this balance between stealth and aerodynamics, advanced computation fluid dynamics were used to model airflows in three dimensions. With the results of this analysis, engineers can achieve laminar flow across most of the RF-180’s wing.  Further aerodynamic control on the 180 is achieved through the use of new structural and manufacturing techniques that led to a surface free of any fasteners.

In the opinion of most experts the RF-180 would likely be used to enter the “non-permissive” airspace of North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and China, a move that would undoubtedly ratchet up the tensions between any affected nations. Regardless of your position on the drone’s supposed offensive/defensive posture, it’ll be interesting to learn more about this craft’s development as it inches out of the classified dark.

Beyond the speculation about its mission and function, the RF-180 represents another step forward in the US military’s pivot from expensive, multi-function craft to cheaper systems that can work in cooperative efforts. With budget belts tightening at the Pentagon, systems like the RF-180 might fit the bill when it comes to both cost and capability.

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