According to FlightGlobal.com, Lockheed, the famed designers of several cutting edge aircraft designs, is currently working on a replacement for the aging U-2 high altitude spy plane.
“Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is designing a next-generation high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) surveillance airplane, known internally as RQ-X or UQ-2, as an optionally-manned successor to the U-2 and Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk.
U-2 programme officials told reporters at the Skunk Works headquarters in Palmdale, California, that its engineers have been mulling designs for stealthy HALE platform that would combine the best of the U-2 and its unmanned rival, the Global Hawk.
The advanced research and development arm of Lockheed is essentially pursuing an improved version of the U-2, which is powered by the same General Electric F118 engine and optimized to fly at 70,000ft or higher. It would carry many of the same sensors, since those are already calibrated for use at that altitude. The biggest difference will be the aircraft’s low-observable characteristics.”
In an odd twist of fate, “Lockheed finds itself in this position partly because its RQ-3 DarkStar, a stealthy unmanned aircraft designed to fly where the U-2 and Global Hawk couldn’t, never made it past flight testing and was cancelled.
These days, though, Lockheed isn’t chasing a solely unmanned design. In fact, the new aircraft would probably be built around the same cockpit as the U-2,” says FlightGlobal.com.
The updated U-2 would have to rely upon stealth characteristics as a means of thwarting detection since Russia’s BUK mobile Air Defense System (NATO code name “Grizzly”) can fire surface-to-air missiles up to and beyond 70,000 feet. A manned aircraft might therefore be required to manually evade incoming missiles.