Forget the F-22 or F-35: How a New Stealth Fighter Might Be Born
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The airframe in question, the Model 401 from Scaled Composites, first flew in 2018, although only a few details are known about what the prototype aircraft is intended for. The aircraft, provisionally referred to as the "Son of Ares", is a single-engine design that uses the same engine as Cessna's Citation Business Jet.
Interestingly, the engine's air intake forms a domed arrangement over the fuselage and has been reported to bring the aircraft up to Mach 0.6 speeds. It has a maximum height of 30,000 feet.
Scaled Composites specializes in quickly bringing unusual looking and novel designs from the prototype stage into the air. One of her stated roles is to "demonstrate advanced, low-cost manufacturing techniques and provide aircraft for research flight services to industrial partners and the United States government." With Washington as a customer, there is understandably the question of stealth.
This could be a project that Scaled Composites is well prepared for. As the company name suggests, one of their specialties is to make advanced airframes from composite materials, not from metals like aluminum or titanium, which are normally used to build airframes. Some composites also have the advantage that they are more difficult to detect with radar.
Indeed, Ares' so-called son seems to incorporate some unobservable features into his design. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the nose of the plane. The edgy nose of the 401 is reminiscent of the F-22 Raptor, which also has eye-catching machines that run from the nose into the body.
The 401 also has steep swept wings that tilt up. It was pointed out that this wing swing and the upward or dihedral angle could serve to provide the pilots with a good horizontal view and a clear view from the left and right. This can make sense in view of possible payloads or pods mounted on the belly.
Test, 1, 2, 3
A photographer managed to take some photos of a pair of 401s flying over the Mojave Desert in Southern California. This time, however, the 401s had some strange markings on their hulls. One of the airframes had a highly reflective material that was either painted or attached to a spot under the cockpit on the left side of the aircraft. This smooth finish contrasted sharply with the other 401, which was painted a matte gray, although it had several diamond-shaped brown spots and a different shade of gray near the cockpit and the stern.
Speculation is widespread, although one of the more likely theories for painting one or the other jet is to test the Legion Pod, a relatively new infrared search and track system developed by Lockheed Martin. The system is now compatible with F15C and F-16 aircraft. The high-gloss finish could be a way to test the capabilities of the Legion Pod, with the non-mirrored airframe acting as a control or base beam.
It's all speculative. Find out more about Ares' mysterious son.
Caleb Larson holds a Master of Public Policy from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes about US and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.
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