Tailless design – this NGAD idea can achieve maximum stealth

Could the mysterious aircraft that Lockheed Martin teased on social media be the brand’s visionary design for the Next Generation Air Dominance [NGAD]? Or is it tied to another classified program? The intrigue is palpable. 

Tailless design - this NGAD idea can achieve maximum stealth
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin IG

On July 1, 2023, Lockheed Martin’s official Instagram account shared a captivating story to commemorate the 80th birthday of its renowned Skunk Works advanced projects division. Amid the array of aircraft silhouettes was one that truly captured the imagination – an enigmatic, evidently manned, next-generation aircraft. 

Earlier in May, the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs announced that the Department of the Air Force had initiated a call for proposals for the 6th generation NGAD fighter, set to replace the iconic F-22. The anticipated contract award is slated for 2024. This NGAD platform is part of a broader vision for critical combat capabilities, designed to strike both airborne and ground-based threats and support the Joint Force. Moreover, the next-gen aircraft will work in tandem with autonomous unmanned aircraft, being developed under the Collaborative Combat Aircraft [CCA] program. 

Secretary Kendall has proposed that the U.S. Air Force acquire 200 NGAD fighters and 1,000 CCA autonomous drones. These drones will operate in a “loyal wingman” role, working closely with the sixth-generation combat aircraft within a connected “system of systems”. This will include other assets such as F-35s, satellites, a secure combat cloud network, air defense nodes, and more. 

Tailless design - this NGAD idea can achieve maximum stealth
Photo by IG @aviationdesigns_mg

Since 2020, at least one full-scale NGAD demonstrator has been clandestinely in flight. In 2022, The War Zone spotted another tailless, delta-wing aircraft in Area 51 satellite imagery, which could well be related to the NGAD program. There have also been unexplained sightings across the U.S. since 2014 that add to the mystery. 

In a recent episode of the riveting Defense & Aerospace Report podcast, it was revealed that not one, not two, but three Next Generation Air Dominance [NGAD] prototypes are currently being put through their paces.

Given these developments, and considering Northrop Grumman’s recent teasing of their own NGAD-like concept, it’s plausible that the silhouette shared on social media is Lockheed Martin’s submission or something related. However, the aircraft could still be something entirely different. 

Is this the secret NGAD fighter jet of the US? Probably not
Photo credit: Twitter

The 6th-gen design, based on its platform and shape, aligns with previous designs by Lockheed Martin. It showcases a tailless design [ideal for maximum stealth] with a diamond-shaped wing planform with straight leading and trailing edges. The engines are fully integrated into the fuselage, with only two bulges indicating their location on the upper fuselage. The exhaust, like many stealth designs, is located on the upper rear fuselage, nearly completely concealing the infrared signature of the diamond-shaped nozzles. The air intakes are hidden, mounted below the fuselage, flush with the wing root and fuselage joint, as seen in earlier front-facing renderings of a similar design. 

Using the silhouette shared on social media, video creator and DCS World gamer AD_FOX2 [@aviationdesigns_mg] has created an intriguing rendering that you can find in this article. Though purely speculative [including the two-tone grey camouflage color scheme], it’s undeniably cool.

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