A photo showing a new aircraft matching the shape of what is commonly known as the RQ-180 unmanned aircraft system has surfaced.
The picture of the UAS was allegedly taken two to three weeks ago inside the Military Operating Area around Edwards AFB, Ca., while the unknown aircraft was flying above California City in a racetrack pattern at an estimated altitude of 20,000 ft.
The image surfaces slightly more than a year after Aviation Week reported that the US Air Force (USAF) had made the fleet of RQ-180 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft operational.
The configuration seems to share many of the supposed features of the RQ-180, namely a large span flying wing with a simple trailing edge and–judging by the contrail–embedded, closely paired twin turbofan engines.
The unusual light color of the vehicle is also believed to be a link to the RQ-180. A local nickname around Edwards AFB for the RQ-180 is the “Great White Bat” (the “white bat” symbol has also appeared as the badge for the 74th Reconnaissance Squadron, possibly the training squadron for the type established earlier this year following the 2018 activation of Detachment 5 of the 9th Operations Group at Beale AFB)–or sometimes “Shikaka”–a fictional sacred white bat from the 1995 movie Ace Venture 2.
The UAS is funded through the USAF’s classified budget, and is possibly designated RQ-180. The UAS was designed for the penetrating Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and electronic attack mission that was conducted by the SR-71A Blackbird up to 1998. The RQ-180 could operate in non-permissive / contested environments and eclipses the smaller, less stealthy and shorter-range RQ-170 Sentinel and adds the mission of the MQ-4 Global Hawk and MQ-9 Reaper fleet. It is believed the USAF as well as the CIA operates the aircraft.
As already explained, a key feature of the RQ-180’s design is an improvement in all-aspect, broadband radar cross-section reduction over Lockheed Martin’s F-117, F-22 and F-35. This is optimized to provide protection from low- and high-frequency threat emitters from all directions. The design also merges stealth with superior aerodynamic efficiency for increased altitude, range and time on station. The clandestine UAS is also able to refuel mid-air.
Photo credit: Photo by Rob Kolinsky / Instagram (sundownerstudios)