Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sat Pic Offers Enticing Shot Of What May Be Secret Lockheed Drone

OK. Let's get this out in the open. Neither you nor I are likely to learn the truth about the image of that thing that might be a plane under the white covering.

But there's this website called Open Source Geoint and it has published a satellite image of one of the most secret defense plants in the country, the Air Force's Plant 42, where a handful of the top defense companies build some of the country's most highly classified aircraft and sensors.

Plant 42 houses highly classified facilities where a number of contractors, including, most famously, Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works, do work for the military and the intelligence community. The Skunk Works is where the U-2 spy plane and the F-117 stealth fighter were built.

The image in the satellite photo may, or may not, show the outlines of a previously unknown aircraft. My colleague Dave Majumdar, who writes Flight Global's the Dew Line, speculates that this aircraft "looks a lot like a RQ-170, but bigger..." He postulates that it may be a P.420, a larger plane than the so-called Beast of Kandahar. [Note to those who wonder why we build things like the RQ-170. It was able to provide important help to the team that killed Osama Bin Laden without being detected by Pakistani radar.]

Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works, remarkably, issued a statement:

"Lockheed Martin Skunk Works often experiments with different shapes and materials for both manned and unmanned vehicles. What you see in the satellite image is one of those projects," said Melissa Dalton, their spokeswoman.

Dalton declined to identify the aircraft pictured, saying the "details are proprietary."

Dave, who is a bit obsessed with planes -- in a good way -- found a patent for a plane that might look like whatever is under the white protective covering in the photo. Or perhaps it's a modified RQ-170 being outfitted for more Iranian surveillance. Or maybe it's -- oh, never mind.

If you know what this image actually shows, you know how to reach us.

Now, cue spooky music from The X Files. And remember: the truth is out there. [But we'll probably never know it!]



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