You’ve got to love the story arc that drones have taken in their relatively short lifespan. First met with skeptical minds, they’ve since become openly embraced and flaunted by all walks of life, from the professionals to the amateurs. Alas, they’ve become so prevalent that U.S. military is totally making super-secret unmanned stealth drones, and they’ve already been test flying them. What’s more, they’re doing it in the airspace above Groom Lake, better known as Area 51. Now, we’re normally on the skeptical side of the conspiracy coin here at Giant Freakin’ Robot, but we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out that they’re “unmanned” drones because they’re being controlled by aliens.
Just kidding! We know they’re probably piloted by Amelia Earhart’s ghost.
On the real, guys, the Air Force has partnered with defense and aerospace contractor Northrop Grumman in developing the RQ-180, which is meant to take over once an older model of the RQ line is retired next year, along with the plane used in the mission in which Osama Bin Laden was killed. While the plane’s size hasn’t been confirmed, aerial photographs show that new hangars at both Area 51 and at Northrop’s plant in Palmdale, California have been built to accommodate aircraft with a 130-foot-plus wingspan. Oh, and there’s also a good chance this new stealthy model will be jointly controlled by the Air Force and the CIA.
I almost feel stupid repeating this, but the CIA may one day control a huge secret aircraft that’s being held in Area 51. Conspiracy theorists write in their dream journals about this kind of shit. Some hack is already thinking about ways to turn this into a large-fonted paperback book to be sold next to horoscope digests at supermarket cash registers.
No one was willing to comment on the plane, of course, but Aviation Week says it “carries radio-frequency sensors such as active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and passive electronic surveillance measures.” It’s meant solely for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, or at least that’s what they tell you. Something tells me once the smartly designed vehicle is successful in its current iteration, things will get uglier. Aviation Week also points out this marks a shift in focus from recon missions over friendly skies and more towards those in areas with less interest in getting watched by U.S. forces. Below is the publication’s cover with an artist’s interpretation of the plane, which I guess is worth about as much as one of those dream journal entries.
Incidentally, President Obama may have recently become the first president ever to bring up Area 51 in a public forum at the 2013 Kennedy Center Honors, when he said one of the most frequently asked questions after getting elected involved the controversial location. “When I wanted to know, I’d call Shirley MacLaine,” he said while honoring the actress who famously said she’d seen UFOs in her life. “I think I just became the first president to ever publicly mention Area 51. How’s that, Shirley?”
If you want to see some of the other unmanned vehicles that Northrop Grumman has been working on recently, check out the videos below. Eight-year-old me wants the one in the bottom clip for Christmas, delivered by an Amazon Drone, of course.