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Northrop Tacit Blue

Stealth Technology Demonstrator

Northrop Tacit Blue

Stealth Technology Demonstrator


The Northrop Tacit Blue technology demonstrator delivered valuable stealth- and reconnaissance-minded data from 1982 to 1985 before it was retired.
National Flag Graphic
ORIGIN: United States
YEAR: 1982
OPERATORS: United States

Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Northrop Tacit Blue model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.
LENGTH: 55.77 feet (17 meters)
WIDTH: 48.23 feet (14.7 meters)
HEIGHT: 10.50 feet (3.2 meters)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 29,996 pounds (13,606 kilograms)
ENGINE: 2 x Garrett ATF3-6 turbofan engines developing 5,440 lb thrust each.
SPEED (MAX): 287 miles-per-hour (462 kilometers-per-hour; 249 knots)
CEILING: 30,000 feet (9,144 meters; 5.68 miles)


Series Model Variants
• Tacit Blue - Base Series Deisgnation; single example completed.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Northrop Tacit Blue Stealth Technology Demonstrator.  Entry last updated on 10/8/2015. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
In late 1976 Northrop was to design, develop and build an experimental reconnaissance-minded stealth aircraft for demonstrating emerging stealth technologies. Under heavy security and an impenetrable veil of secrecy that was common for advanced projects of the period, "Tacit Blue" was born. Testing was conducted out of Groom Lake, Nevada at the United States Air Force's (USAF) secret test facility "Area 51". Because of Tacit Blue's general appearance - deep fuselage, blunt nose, squared wing surfaces - the stealth engineers associated with the project became known as "Whalers" and the prototype was itself recognized as "Shamu".

Despite its early-1980s origins, the aircraft was not officially revealed by the USAF until April 30th, 1996.

Tacit Blue held origins in a DARPA initiative for the USAF under the program name of "Battlefield Surveillance Aircraft-Experimental" (BSAX) . A low-observable air vehicle was to be the focal point of the program and pave the way for future stealth aircraft in service to the United States military at a time when the Soviet Empire remained the last world power to challenge American military might. The new aircraft would be capable of working near contested frontlines with impunity due to its radar-reflecting/absorbent technology which could - theoretically - make it invisible to scanning/tracking systems. Onboard systems would allow for the aircraft to communicate to ground force commanders in real-time, providing vital targeting information.

The fuselage of Tacit Blue took on a slab-sided shape with a chined body. Its nose was blunt and lacked a true cone. Wing mainplanes were seated aft of midships though no horizontal tail surfaces were featured. Instead outward-canted vertical fins were used which added one key stealth quality. 2 x Garret ATF3-6 high-bypass turbofan engines of 5,440lb thrust (each) were installed in the aft fuselage for general propulsion and this engine pairing was aspirated through a single intake opening found along the fuselage spine. Maximum speed was proven up to 287 miles per hour with a service ceiling reaching 30,000 feet. A wheeled, retractable tricycle undercarriage was installed for ground running. The crew numbered one and sat behind a multi-paned canopy showcased at the front of the aircraft. Dimensions included a length of 55.9 feet, a wingspan of 48 feet and a height of 10.6 feet.

Awkward-looking and unimpressive by appearance alone, the Tacit Blue aircraft was known under such names like "Whale" and "Alien School Bus". One of its own designers commented on the Tacit Blue as " of the most unstable aircraft man had ever flown...". Because of its inherent instability, the aircraft was given a Fly-by-Wire (FBW) system with quadruple redundancy built in.

Tacit Blue served as a technology demonstrator for its entire operational life and only one air vehicle was ever completed. It reached around 250 hours in the air before being retired in 1985. A decade later, it became a permanent part of the Research and Development Hangar of the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio where it remains to this day. Some of the technology proven in the Tacit Blue program went on to be featured in operational platforms like the "JSTARS".


Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

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Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 300mph
Lo: 150mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (287mph).

Graph average of 225 miles-per-hour.
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Unit Production (1)
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

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Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
In the Cockpit...
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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