Lockheed Martin / Boeing Tier III Minus DarkStar

As already mentioned, Lockheed Martin and Boeing received in 1994 a direct contract under the scheme ACTD (Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration) development and production diminished and truncated versions of Tier III UAVs. The aircraft was allocated to the mysterious name of DarkStar. Reduce not only the size but substantially the performance and all of a sudden be subject to a ceiling of $ 10 million apiece, what many considered to be quite transparent way to ensure both programs (including Tier II Plus) to fail once they start. Nevertheless, he had the means to take off, carry out its mission and land fully autonomously. Several experts, led by David Kier himself doubted that the low-built cap will lead to any meaningful results and to promote the idea to raise the price to about $ 30 million apiece. In such a case would no longer be envisaged on the actual unmanned reconnaissance platform, usable in a real battlefield conditions. The representatives of DARPA, however neither were about to hear and expression argued that producers provide enough compelling arguments about its ability to develop aircraft in the desired price level. After all, why not? Who would have just surrendered to direct the development contract for $ 100 million?

One of the critical errors Lockheed was the decision to recycle most of the software developed for a fighter means QUARTZ ATF and implement it into the middle of DarkStar. Thus, the strategy should reduce costs, but practical implementation has been much more difficult than anticipated. In addition to the software shared Tier III Minus prototype QUARTZ only some low observability technology. Basically, those were too expensive or too secret. DarkStar is a machine optimized for specific types of missions for which PUF was determined from a strategic national tracking system has become a small tactical reconnaissance aircraft. From a structural point of view was essentially a scaled means Tier III bivalve central part and a long straight wing with a slight negative \u0161�povitos\u0165ou. The payload of the aircraft should consist of two types of sensors - either by electro-equipment company ReconOptical radar or SAR type of Northrop Grumman. Due to capacity and space in the trunk but could not be carried simultaneously, since the second half of the block occupied avionics equipment.

Wing span of 21.03 meters was very slightly negative \u0161�povitos\u0165 that can be perceived as good when viewed from the side. The central part of an all-trunk-shaped cake was 4.57 meters long and 1.52 meters high only. The drive ensures a jet engine Williams International FJ44-1A 8.45 kN thrust. With him was DarkStar aircraft capable of a speed of around 500 km / h. Radius of the machine from the ground control center was set at 925 km and flight level at 13,700 feet. Aircraft in the air had to endure at least 8 hours, and the future is anticipated with the improvement of this parameter. An important part of the development was also the ability to transmit flight and exploration data acquired in real time via satellite to a control center.

Although the programs are Tier II and Tier III Plus Minus officially presented as complementary, and at lesser expense fulfilling the objectives of the original specifications, Tier III, in fact since the beginning of the fight between them, since everyone was clear that, if not both, at least one of they will be canceled. Lockheed and Boeing have decided to take advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars invested in machinery and means Aars DarkStar built in an extremely short time. Public and the media have been solemnly brought in June 1995. Believed that this considerable advantage over Tier II Plus program forces keeping DARPA and representatives of the Government to cancel the competition and the funds saved to invest in the development of “improved” (read more) versions of the piece means DarkStar price from 30 to 40,000,000 USD that would be hope to enter into a row of real service.

Although the first flight expected in October 1995, the software problems are rolling ground tests began in January 1996, and the aircraft came to the premiere air 29th March at the base of Edwards AFB. While it was the prototype AV-1 observed several anomalies, such as the unequal distribution of buoyancy and weight to the chassis during the last thirty yards from the peel from the ground. Consequently, the butt of the machine away from the runway, but the front undercarriage leg still cruised the surface. The most serious problem, however, was the means of oscillation observed during the flight. Engineers on the ground and lower managers were aware of unpredictable phenomena, and therefore suggested postponing the second flight. However, their proposal was rejected by senior officials of Lockheed and DARPA.

Therefore, the second flight took place on 22 April, but unfortunately, with irreversible consequences. The aircraft was accompanied by the same problems start when the first air lifted to the main rear chassis and then to front undercarriage leg. This time, however, played a role and vibration aircraft entered a steep climb. Engine performance was not rated for such stunts, and all means unnatural started turning back. This confused the flight control software that sudden change of data from sensors and indicated zero forward speed explained as an emergency landing and engine shut down. As a result, the machine is turned on its axis of spin and landed back on the track surface. Was irreversibly damaged.

By accident nalietal first prototype flight only 45 minutes and stop the loss of flight testing for more than two years. Although the main cause of the accident was the aircraft design itself, or poorly prepared software that poorly simulated ground effect during take offs and landings, significantly contributed to other factors. Especially rapid development without sufficient land aerodynamic simulations underestimated the technical risks involved in developing UAVs with the unique characteristics of low observability, lack of communication between contractors as well as aggressive development and flight test plan by Lockheed in order to demonstrate that his department is still Skunk Works leader the field of advanced aviation technologies. Since all software modifications necessitated more than two years (and still have not been fully brought to an end), cards began to turn in favor of a competing agent Tier II Plus, which then carries out its relatively trouble-free flight program. Means DarkStar was suddenly a much greater threat and faded and all efforts to build more production versions. Competition, of course, sleep, and so as Randy Cunningham, the U.S. Congress representing the state of California to create a strong lobbingov� group that tried to stop the project if the Tier III Minus the estimated unit price exceeds the above-mentioned means of USD 10 million. The money saved be used to incorporate some specific technologies, low observability aircraft, the RQ-4 Global Hawk. Lockheed and Boeing have received despite the additional 22 million USD to build a replacement demonstrator who had planned to replace the original test crashed.

The second prototype machine DarkStar was first raised to the 29th Air June 1998, 26 months after losing the first and only made \u200b\u200ba total of five flights lasting six hours of flight time . During that time failed to collect enough data to understand the flight characteristics. Unexpected problems with oscillation, which led to the loss of a first prototype failed to explain satisfactorily, although the second prototype differed from the first several improvements, mainly aerodynamic in nature. As a result, he was assigned designation RQ-3A. Also tested was ground control segment and the means or sensor equipment. While sensors have undergone extensive testing for terrestrial Stendal, but have never been built and tested the aircraft in the air. Similarly, the estimated unit price has already exceeded 13 million USD, making the program very quickly losing support from all sides. In September 1998, recommended its repeal and analysts Office budget, with the final decision came officially 27th January 1999. The reason was mainly the continuing technical problems with the overall concept of the machine and the associated increase in cost with a much more successful during the development of a competitive machine RQ-4 Global Hawk. At that time, before the completion of two other specimens, and allowed for the serial production of twenty pieces, the total price of the weapon system was estimated at one billion dollars (600 million to develop and manufacture plus another 400 million to operate during the planned life). Subsequent evaluation studies indicate that the USAF could continue flight tests means RQ-3A and below and at minimal cost, while gained valuable flight data. Achieve the desired flight performance may, nevertheless, was more than questionable. At the end of 1998 has come a proposal to use the remaining three pieces in the surgical operation on specific missions, which would be necessary to penetrate heavily defended territory, but given the overall lack of preparation for the harsh operating system it was just a blind shot.

Overall, it was therefore a further review of the abolition of the aircraft with stealth features. While in the case of Aars the parties wanted to achieve too much in disproportionately large cost means DarkStar was canceled because it demands (especially in terms of prices) are set unreasonably low and the overall performance and were too weak for any practical use. But even there the story ends. Boeing and Lockheed Martin is received from the Air Force recommendation to nerozp�\u0161\u0165ali their teams, who participated in the development of … Currently, all three remaining machines are in museums. Prototype AV-2, which survived the flight tests, hangs in the National Museum of the USAF base at Wright Patterson and nezalietan� but finished prototype AV-3 and AV-4 have found their way into the Museum of Flight in Seattle and the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Date: Wed, 6 Mar 2002 13:13:14 -0600
From: "Allen Thomson" <>
Subject: Origins of Dark Star

I was googling about and found something I posted on Usenet back in 1999.
As things continue to be slow in skunkland, perhaps someone would care
to comment on it, perhaps provide relevant information that has been found
in the past three years.

-Original Posting-

Buried on pp. 77-78 of the 24 May 1999 AWST is an article that might
bear on things skunkish and, who knows, even Area 51-ish.

   Long-Term Stealth Project Gets the Ax
   by David A. Fulghum
   Aviation Week & Space Technology
   May 24, 1999, pp. 77-78

   In consolidating recent mergers, Boeing has committed itself to
   ruthlessly cutting programs that aren't going to make near-term
   profits. One victim is a stealthy, unmanned reconnaissance aircraft
   project, most of which is still classified...

   Initially, the 15-year long black program was designed to build a
   strategic reconnaissance aircraft that resembled the Dark-Star in
   shape and approached the B-2 bomber in size and cost, according to
   several Pentagon officials. The aircraft was to penetrate contested
   airspace... [,] carry a wide range of sensors and serve as a
   replacement for the long-lived U-2.

   High cost and the post-Cold War political environment led to a
   scaling down of the project and the subsequent design of several
   smaller, cheaper versions. Boeing teamed with Lockheed Martin during
   the redesign on what was known as the Tier 3 UAV. This project was
   abandoned in 1992. The stealth design was then shrunk a third time
   and built as the Tier 3- UAV, later called Dark Star. [Dark Star was
   suddenly canceled on 27 Jan 1999 by Pentagon acquisition chief
   Jacques Gansler.]

   Pentagon supporters of the Global Hawk and DarkStar long-endurance
   UAV programs said Gansler's recommendation came at the Air Force's
   urging. The idea is to kill the Dark Star now, cancel production of
   the Global Hawk in a year or two and then launch into a new program
   for a large stealthy UAV. It would have a 1-2-ton payload and the
   ability to operate covertly even when under observation by low-
   frequency radars.


Comment: The part about the B-2-sized UAV being intended as a
replacement for the U-2 (at least the post-1960s U-2) strikes me as
questionable. More likely, IMO, is that its primary task was to
perform reconnaissance over the Soviet Union in support of the B-2's
original raison d'etre: destruction of strategic relocatable
targets, aka mobile ICBMs and IRBMs.

Things pointing to this interpretation are:

- - the characterization of it as a "strategic reconnaissance

- - the timeframe in which it must have been initiated (probably during
  Reagan's first term, maybe early in his second one, when
  strategic warfighting programs were being pushed)

- - the size, stealth and associated cost, all of which were much
  more compatible with the Cold-War strategic warfighting mission
  than with simple replacement of the U-2

- - the fact that the mobile-missile hunting mission of the B-2
  seriously needed something to provide broad-area, more or less
  continuous surveillance. Satellites and the SR-71 wouldn't have done
  it very well because of dwell and revisit problems; the big
  UAV would have been much better suited to the task.