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US Air Force's latest stealth drone revealed

US Air Force's latest stealth drone revealed

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The next major stealth plane to fuel future decades of US secret reconnaissance has been revealed — and it won't carry any humans on board. The RQ-180 will be a joint tool for both the US Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency, and promises to capture sensitive intelligence and imagery in highly dangerous airspace, reports Aviation Week. The drone's been designed as a spiritual successor of sorts to the SR-71 Blackbird, which was retired in 1998 and will reportedly have its own unmanned successor by 2018. The RQ-180 should arrive sooner than that, Aviation Week says, with use in missions by 2015.

Longer, stealthier flights in more dangerous places

The RQ-180 is reportedly stealthier than the existing RQ-170, which is currently in service, flying at higher altitudes and for considerably longer amounts of time. Aviation Week also suggests the design could make use of in-flight refueling, pushing flight times into the 100 hour range.

Neither the Air Force nor creator Northrop Grumman are discussing the project, though recently-built hangers that match up with the general size of the aircraft have been spotted in California and Nevada. Aviation Week also points to a 2008 contract that was quietly awarded to Northrop Grumman somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 billion, and tied to the same division that made the B-2 stealth bomber.