Is the Air Force Hiding a Secret New Warplane?

Satellites spotted strange objects at a mysterious airfield near Area 51.

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  • A dozen unusual blobs appeared earlier this month on imagery taken at a secret airfield in Nevada.
  • The objects are roughly fighter-jet sized—or larger.
  • The airfield, the Tonopah Test Range, was previously the home of the F-117A stealth fighter when it was a secret Air Force program.

    A private satellite network has apparently detected what could be a secret fleet of aircraft at a remote airfield in Nevada. An overflight of the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada captured unusual activity on the ground that could be up to a dozen previously unacknowledged military aircraft. If so, this would be the first unofficial confirmation that the U.S. military is flying some new aircraft, manned or unmanned, not officially in the Pentagon’s air arsenal.

    The War Zone first detected the objects in imagery taken by Planet Labs' PlanetScope earth observation satellites on December 6. Planet Labs maintains a constellation of optical surveillance satellites worldwide, snapping pictures daily and beaming them down to Earth. The satellites have 3.7-meter ground sample resolution, meaning each pixel represents 3.7 meters, or 12 feet. Planet Labs uses these satellites for remote sensing purposes, allowing governments and corporations access to daily images of virtually every point on Earth. In 2018, Planet Labs nabbed these photos of China’s Southern Theater Navy in parade formation in the South China Sea.

    According to The War Zone, the objects were detected in and around a series of hangars at the Tonopah Test Range. The hangars were originally built for the F-117A stealth fighter. There are two rows of six hangars each, and the objects appear to be occupying the front row of hangars.

    What are the objects? It’s impossible to know, but they’re approximately the size of a typical fighter jet—if we're seeing the whole object parked in front of the hangar. An additional possibility worth considering is that we’re only seeing the nose or tail of an even larger aircraft poking out from under hangar cover. If that were the case, the aircraft could be slightly larger.

    F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter Flies In Death Valley, California
    One of the 4-6 F-117As flying out of the Tonopah Test Range photographed over Death Valley, California, February 2019.
    Jerod HarrisGetty Images

    According to The War Zone, U.S. Special Operations Command airplanes are known to use Tonopah, but there are too few of them—and they use a different part of the airfield. There are a handful of F-117A stealth fighters doing classified post-retirement work at the base, but not enough to cause such a large display on the ground.

    One possibility: We're looking at a new type of warplane, designed and built in secret, and now operated from the Tonopah Test Range. In the mid 1980s, the U.S. Air Force built and operated 56 F-117A stealth fighters in total secrecy, with word getting out only after a fatal crash in California. The F-117As were based at the Tonopah Test Range.

    What could we be looking at? If the objects are aircraft, and they most certainly are, they’re likely some kind of tactical aircraft, either a reconnaissance craft or attack jet. The planes could be manned, but the trend is clearly toward unmanned aircraft, so these could be remotely operated from the ground. The Air Force has been criticized for not investing in an unmanned strike aircraft capable of penetrating air space and attacking enemy targets. Perhaps it did develop one after all—in secret.

    Source: The War Zone

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