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X-44A: The Secret ‘Skunk Works’ Flying-Wing That Made History

X-44 Manta
NGAD Artist’s rendering (USAF).

Back in the late 1990s, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works developed an unmanned aerial vehicle called the X-44A, which was first built in 1999 and first thrown two years later. However, it was canceled around 2000, and never actually saw the light of day until nearly two decades later.

The War Zone reported on this back in 2018, describing the X-44A as “a missing link in a lineage of shadowy unmanned flying-wing drones built by the legendary Skunk Works.”

That link, in fact, was between two other Lockheed products- “Lockheed’s abortive “Tier III-” RQ-3 Darkstar unmanned penetrating and long-loitering spy aircraft and the company’s history-making RQ-170 Sentinel.”

Not even the name of the aircraft was known until that report in February of 2018.

“The shadowy aircraft’s designation is outright confusing as the X-44 “Manta” is largely known as a program that aimed to test a tailless manned aircraft design that emanated from the same period of time. This notional aircraft would use thrust vectoring for primary flight control, with the objective being to realize new speed, fuel efficiency, and maneuverability capabilities with such a design, as well as to demonstrate simpler and cheaper forms of aircraft structures production,” the site said.

Another Lockheed craft, described by The War Zone as a “fat little flying-wing drone,” also carried the same name.

The X-44A is on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

The technology was also used for other purposes in the ensuing year, The War Zone said.

“In recent years, the Skunk Works X-44 was refitted and used to evaluate visual cueing systems for the Navy’s upcoming Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) tanker drone program.”

“Built by the famed Skunk Works, the X-44A successfully tested multiple technologies.  Its composite structure airframe was quickly built using advanced manufacturing techniques. The X-44A design refined tailless aircraft aerodynamics and flight controls.  The test program also improved Lockheed Martin’s unmanned command and control system,” Air Force museum website says.

“The X-44A first flew in 2001, before other contemporary stealthy, flying wing unmanned aircraft.  It also supported other test programs, including a deck-handling demonstration for US Navy carriers.  The X-44A was not publicly revealed, however, until 2018.”

The War Zone was also curious about what else is out there from the past.

“Above all else, the nearly two decade-old X-44A serves a reminder that there is so much technology and history buried in the deeply classified “black” world that we have yet to learn about.”

 Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

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