Aircraft / Aviation Vehicles & Artillery Infantry Arms Warships & Submarines Military Pay Chart (2023) Military Ranks
Aviation / Aerospace

Northrop Tacit Blue

Stealth Technology Demonstrator Aircraft [ 1982 ]

The Northrop Tacit Blue technology demonstrator delivered valuable stealth- and reconnaissance-minded data from 1982 to 1985 before it was retired.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 05/15/2019 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

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 "...one 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".©MilitaryFactory.com
Note: The above text is EXCLUSIVE to the site www.MilitaryFactory.com. It is the product of many hours of research and work made possible with the help of contributors, veterans, insiders, and topic specialists. If you happen upon this text anywhere else on the internet or in print, please let us know at MilitaryFactory AT gmail DOT com so that we may take appropriate action against the offender / offending site and continue to protect this original work.


Service Year

United States national flag graphic
United States

Not in Service.


National flag of the United States United States
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.

55.8 ft
(17.00 m)
48.2 ft
(14.70 m)
10.5 ft
(3.20 m)
29,996 lb
(13,606 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Northrop Tacit Blue production variant)
Installed: 2 x Garrett ATF3-6 turbofan engines developing 5,440 lb thrust each.
Max Speed
287 mph
(462 kph | 249 kts)
30,000 ft
(9,144 m | 6 mi)

♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
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 base Northrop Tacit Blue production variant. Performance specifications showcased above are subject to environmental factors as well as aircraft configuration. Estimates are made when Real Data not available. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database or View aircraft by powerplant type)

Supported Types

(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Tacit Blue - Base Series Deisgnation; single example completed.

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 Ukranian-Russian War
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

Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.

Images Gallery

1 / 5
Image of the Northrop Tacit Blue
2 / 5
Image of the Northrop Tacit Blue
3 / 5
Image of the Northrop Tacit Blue
4 / 5
Image of the Northrop Tacit Blue
5 / 5
Image of the Northrop Tacit Blue


Disclaimer | Privacy Policy | Cookies

2023 Military Pay Chart Military Ranks DoD Dictionary Conversion Calculators Military Alphabet Code Military Map Symbols

The "Military Factory" name and MilitaryFactory.com logo are registered ® U.S. trademarks protected by all applicable domestic and international intellectual property laws. All written content, illustrations, and photography are unique to this website (unless where indicated) and not for reuse/reproduction in any form. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value only and should not to be construed as usable for hardware restoration, maintenance, or general operation. We do not sell any of the items showcased on this site. Please direct all other inquiries to militaryfactory AT gmail.com. No A.I. was used in the generation of this content; site is 100% curated by humans.

Part of a network of sites that includes GlobalFirepower, a data-driven property used in ranking the top military powers of the world, WDMMA.org (World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft), WDMMW.org (World Directory of Modern Military Warships), SR71blackbird.org, detailing the history of the world's most iconic spyplane, and MilitaryRibbons.info, cataloguing military medals and ribbons.

View day-by-day actions of the American Civil War with CivilWarTimeline.net. View day-by-day actions of World War II with SecondWorldWarHistory.com.

©2023 www.MilitaryFactory.com • All Rights Reserved • Content ©2003-2023 (20yrs)