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Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3 DarkStar


High-Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) UAV


United States | 1996



"The initial Lockheed DarkStar prototype of 1996 crashed on its second flight leading to its termination in a 1999 review."



Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 07/06/2017 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site; No A.I. was used in the generation of this content.
DarkStar origins were found in a 1983 initiative that saw the United States Air Force (USAF), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) begin a new competition to fulfill a requirement for a reconnaissance-minded, high-altitude Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). The competition involved both defense powerhouses Lockheed Martin and Boeing with the product assigned the nickname of "Quartz". The system was intended to penetrate deep into Soviet airspace and loiter over territory for periods reaching forty hours while utilizing onboard intelligence-gathering equipment. This initiative begat the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (AARS) program designation.

However, in December of 1992, the AARS program was terminated after a budget review and also hampered along the way by the eventual collapse of the Soviet Empire. The dissolution of the Soviet Union meant that many spy-type programs were either curtailed or cancelled outright. Despite this, the program continued along a more low-key, less ambitious route under the "Tier III" name.

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The Tier III program was itself eventually divided in two distinct directions - the first to produce a non-stealth, long-range, high-altitude UAV and the second to become a high-altitude, stealth-minded alternative. The former went on to become the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 "Global Hawk" while the latter evolved to become the Lockheed/Boeing RQ-3 "DarkStar" system. The DarkStar was created under the "DARPA" label, the "Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency".

Externally, DarkStar was given a rather unique shape as aircraft go. It featured a disc-like fuselage that was well-contoured and very squat in profile. At its aft sides, the main wing assemblies were attached, these as straight-wing appendages. Moving wing surfaces were identified along the trailing edge while wing tips were clipped. The fuselage housed the powerplant which was aspirated from the front and exhausted through a small opening at the rear. The undercarriage was wholly retractable. There were no vertical wing surfaces of any kind and its payload was held internally, consisting of intelligence-gathering equipment and similar. A probe was attached to the forward edge of the fuselage shape. Overall dimensions of the aircraft included a length of 15 feet, a wingspan of 69 feet and a height of 3 feet, 6 inches. Empty weight was listed at around 4,360lbs with a loaded weight of 8,500lbs. Cruising speed was approximately 288 miles per hour. Range was 575 miles with a service ceiling up to 45,000 feet.

The RQ-3 DarkStar prototype went airborne for the first time on March 29th, 1996. However, the vehicle crashed on its second flight in April. Slight revisions to the design begat the "RQ-3A" designation and a further two RQ-3A prototypes were completed but these were never to fly for the program was terminated (due to fears of its stability on top of budget cuts) on January 28th, 1999.

All three existing examples were then relegated for display as museums showpieces. They can currently (January 2014) be found at the National Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio, the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington and the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum of Washington D.C.

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Power & Performance
Those special qualities that separate one aircraft design from another. Performance specifications presented assume optimal operating conditions for the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3A DarkStar High-Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) UAV.
1 x Engine delivering unknown output.
Propulsion
295 mph
475 kph | 256 kts
Max Speed
44,291 ft
13,500 m | 8 miles
Service Ceiling
578 miles
930 km | 502 nm
Operational Range
City-to-City Ranges
Operational range when compared to distances between major cities (in KM).
NYC
 
  LON
LON
 
  PAR
PAR
 
  BER
BER
 
  MOS
MOS
 
  TOK
TOK
 
  SYD
SYD
 
  LAX
LAX
 
  NYC
Structure
The nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip physical qualities of the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3A DarkStar High-Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) UAV.
0
(UNMANNED)
Crew
15.1 ft
4.60 m
O/A Length
69.9 ft
(21.30 m)
O/A Width
3.6 ft
(1.10 m)
O/A Height
4,409 lb
(2,000 kg)
Empty Weight
8,510 lb
(3,860 kg)
MTOW
Design Balance
The three qualities reflected below are altitude, speed, and range. The more full the box, the more balanced the design.
RANGE
ALT
SPEED
Variants
Notable series variants as part of the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3 DarkStar family line.
RQ-3 "DarkStar" - Base Series Designation.
RQ-3A - Slightly revised prototype following crash of original model; three completed in all.
Operators
Global customers who have evaluated and/or operated the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3 DarkStar. Nations are displayed by flag, each linked to their respective national aircraft listing.

Total Production: 3 Units

Contractor(s): Lockheed Martin - Boeing Company - USA
National flag of the United States

[ United States ]
Relative Max Speed
Hi: 300mph
Lo: 150mph
Aircraft Max Listed Speed (295mph).

Graph Average of 225 MPH.
Era Crossover
Pie graph section
Showcasing Aircraft Era Crossover (if any)
Max Alt Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Production Comparison
3
36183
44000
Entry compared against Ilyushin IL-2 (military) and Cessna 172 (civilian) total production.
MACH Regime (Sonic)
Sub
Trans
Super
Hyper
HiHyper
ReEntry
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030
Aviation Timeline
EarlyYrs
WWI
Interwar
WWII
ColdWar
Postwar
Modern
Future
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Image of the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3 DarkStar
Image courtesy of the USAF Museum of Dayton, Ohio, USA.
2 / 4
Image of the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3 DarkStar
Image courtesy of the USAF Museum of Dayton, Ohio, USA.
3 / 4
Image of the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3 DarkStar
Image courtesy of the USAF Museum of Dayton, Ohio, USA.
4 / 4
Image of the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3 DarkStar
Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.

Mission Roles
Some designs are single-minded in their approach while others offer a more versatile solution to airborne requirements.
UNMANNED
Recognition
Some designs stand the test of time while others are doomed to never advance beyond the drawing board; let history be their judge.
Going Further...
The Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3 DarkStar High-Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) UAV appears in the following collections:
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