A mysterious stealthy low-observable aircraft was spotted at Lockheed Martin’s secretive Helendale radar-cross section (RCS) measurement facility.
While we don’t know what this shape is intended to resemble, it provides a timely reminder of some of the exotic test work that’s clearly going on behind closed doors, at facilities like Helendale and others, on a number of advanced combat jet development programs that we know about, as well as more stealthy aviation work going on in the classified realm.
A short video showing the apparent test shape seems to have been first posted to the TikTok video-sharing social networking service, before being shared on other social media channels. Ruben Hofs brought it to our attention on Twitter. Hofs, who tweets as @rubenhofs, used an open-source intelligence (OSINT) comparison of buildings and foliage in the locale to determine that the video was almost certainly taken at Helendale.
The video itself shows what looks like an inverted stealth aircraft shape being transported on a flatbed trailer, while a voice asks: “What the fuck is that?” As Hofs notes, the shape of the aircraft is very different from typical “pole caps,” which are more familiar test shapes used for calibration of the pylons used in RCS tests at Helendale and other facilities.
Intriguingly, the test shape does seem to show some broad similarities with various next-generation fighter designs, including some concepts for Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD), that we have seen to date.
It appears to have a diamond-like, tailless shape, with an elongated fuselage and a single prominent chine line. The ‘hump’ is perhaps where the cockpit would be located, although the shape could equally be intended to represent an unmanned concept. It is hard to tell if the article represents a full platform, or more of just the fuselage.
It’s worth noting that the test model in question is unlikely to be some highly sensitive aspect of an ongoing program, above all since it was seen being moved around in daylight in plain view of contractors and facility workers.
On the other hand, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has a long history of being right on the bleeding edge of stealth aircraft developments. Oftentimes, many shapes will be tested and evolved into an eventual settled-upon design.