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Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3 DarkStar


High-Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) UAV (1996)


Aviation / Aerospace

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Image courtesy of the USAF Museum of Dayton, Ohio, USA.
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Image courtesy of the USAF Museum of Dayton, Ohio, USA.
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Image courtesy of the USAF Museum of Dayton, Ohio, USA.
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Image copyright www.MilitaryFactory.com; No Reproduction Permitted.

Jump-to: Specifications

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.
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.
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.

Specifications



Service Year
1996

Origin
United States national flag graphic
United States

Crew
0
UNMANNED
Production
3
UNITS


Lockheed Martin - Boeing Company - USA
National flag of the United States United States
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Unmanned Capability
Aircraft inherently designed (or later developed) with an unmanned capability to cover a variety of over-battlefield roles.


Length
15.1 ft
(4.60 m)
Width/Span
69.9 ft
(21.30 m)
Height
3.6 ft
(1.10 m)
Empty Wgt
4,409 lb
(2,000 kg)
MTOW
8,510 lb
(3,860 kg)
Wgt Diff
+4,101 lb
(+1,860 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3A DarkStar production variant)
Installed: 1 x Engine delivering unknown output.
Max Speed
295 mph
(475 kph | 256 kts)
Ceiling
44,291 ft
(13,500 m | 8 mi)
Range
578 mi
(930 km | 1,722 nm)


♦ 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


(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the Lockheed / Boeing RQ-3A DarkStar production variant. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database. View aircraft by powerplant type)
None.


RQ-3 "DarkStar" - Base Series Designation.
RQ-3A - Slightly revised prototype following crash of original model; three completed in all.


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