Michael Yon captures RQ-170 at Kandahar

About six months ago, intrepid mil-blogger Michael Yon posted a comment on this blog below an item showing a new photo of an Northrop Grumman X-47B. Yon wrote:

“I saw something like that land at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (Maybe was something else, but looked very similar.)”

Close, Michael, but not quite. The X-47B still hasn’t flown yet. You must have seen the RQ-170 Sentinel, a stealthy unmanned air vehicle (UAV) confirmed by the US Air Force last December but still only glimpsed in a series of grainy or awkwardly-framed images.

Last week, a photo surfaced on a random Flickr page showing the RQ-170 in Kandahar. The image is attributed and copyrighted by Michael Yon, but the Flickr site appears to belong to someone else. It’s not clear how the image turned up there, but it’s a good thing it somehow came to light. Obviously snapped while Yon was taxiing in a passenger aircraft, the image reveals the best angle of the RQ-170 published so far in the unclassified world.

Thanks, Mr. Yon!


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9 Responses to Michael Yon captures RQ-170 at Kandahar

  1. Drop Bear 4 October, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    Hi Stephen – I have a question for all the readers on the blog (and yourself of course!) about the apetures on the leading edges.

    Is this a working living example of Yehudi lights in operation? makes no sense for them to be sensor windows as one would suffice if it was an F-35 style DAS.

    All in all the mystery just got deeper – because those protrusions over the wings appear to be the most unusual configuration from an aerodynamic stand point.

  2. John 4 October, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    Looks like the Horten Ho 229

  3. John 4 October, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    Could this plane just fly upside down when in the air? There’s no pilot to get a headache
    The bumps on the wings could be sensors that scan downwards when in the air. By mounting them this way you get better ground clearance, reduced FOD damage and wider viewing angles.

  4. mike j 4 October, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    Drop Bear-

    What apertures on the leading edge? Do you mean the landing lights? Think about it; why would you turn on the “stealth lights” with the thing sitting on the taxiway?

    The protrusions over the wings are probably antenna blisters, and aerodynamically, they’re not a big deal.

  5. Thad Beier 5 October, 2010 at 12:32 am #

    The image shows the jet inlet on the top, much like the B2 and any number of other very-stealthy planes. With that, it pretty clearly doesn’t land upside-down.

  6. Drop Bear 5 October, 2010 at 3:34 pm #

    @ Mike.

    “What apertures on the leading edge? Do you mean the landing lights?”

    No – look again at the wing leading edges and tell me what you see. I clearly wrote ‘leading edges’ and I cannot see how you can confuse landing lights on the under side of the airframe with leading edge of the wing.

    You will see apetures of some description on the leading edges and I belive this may be some form of active optical signature reduction.

    Just my $.0.02 any how.

  7. AirShowFan 5 October, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    John’s idea is very interesting. I’m not saying it’s probable, but it’s fun to think about.

    With one exception…
    … I don’t know of any aircraft that can land in the inverted orientation relative to how it’s meant to fly. Of course, the aerodynamics of the wing would be non-ideal, unless you use a symmetrical airfoil. But if you need a lot of stuff to stick out from the underside, which would require very large landing gear for sufficient ground clearance, then it might be less detrimental to take the aerodynamic-performance hit from inverted takeoffs and landings if you get to do it on a set of much smaller and lighter gear (since you’d need much less ground clearance). Hmmm.

  8. mike j 6 October, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    Drop Bear-

    I see what you mean now. Three lighter spots roughly evenly spaced across the left leading edge, maybe on the right too. Honestly, it’s not clear enough for me to tell what that is. Other pics don’t show anything there, but ‘Photochop’ is always to be suspected. Hopefully Yon got some more snaps.

  9. Piper Hopskins 18 October, 2010 at 7:00 am #

    I also think the same as the correct commenter above :P

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