SPOTTED: Mystery aircraft near Beale AFB? [UPDATE: Solved!]

N355SX

UPDATE: Well done, @Lightndattic. It looks like we found our answer. The aircraft appears to be the Scaled Composites Model 355, which is surprisingly a manned aircraft, according to the photo above, which was posted two weeks ago on Flickr. The FAA’s registration database says the experimental aircraft was built in 2010 and its serial number is 001. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the Model 355 is not just manned, but is probably optionally unmanned, too. And those antennas on the bottom of the fuselage are clearly not intended for civilian purposes. That is a signals intelligence payload, my friends.

[To read original post from last night, see below.]

UAV beale militaryphotos 560.jpg

An aircraft with an unmistakably Burt Rutan-ish design has been spotted in the airspace about 35mi south of Beale AFB, Calif, according to pictures posted late on 1 May at Militaryphotos.net.

To my eyes, it’s looks like the Scaled Composites Proteus and the the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Heron TP decided to have a baby.

There are plenty of possible owners of such an aircraft. Maybe it’s a Scaled (which is owned by Northrop Grumman)/IAI collaboration? Or perhaps it’s something else.

But this mysterious aircraft’s existence raises some interesting questions. It’s clearly in the medium-altitude, long-endurance class of unmanned air vehicles. Of course, the US Air Force and Army already have a family of MALE UAVs, and nothing is planned to replace the MQ-1B Predator/MQ-1C Gray Eagle/MQ-9 Reaper fleet for several years. The air force’s MQ-X concept still seems on indefinite hold, and the army is pleased to continue buying more Gray Eagles through the end of the decade.



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14 Responses to SPOTTED: Mystery aircraft near Beale AFB? [UPDATE: Solved!]

  1. Jake 4 May, 2011 at 2:09 am #

    Could just be a civilian agency testing out a commercial UAV for mundane use?

  2. Stephen Trimble 4 May, 2011 at 2:11 am #

    Possibly, but which commercial UAV?

  3. Znapel 4 May, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    I’m guessing that’s an EO ball in the middle, in the dark grey rectangle. And that’s a lot of antennae for a civilian bird, no? At least, they look like antennae.

    But yeah, very Rutan-y. Shame he retired, man was one-of-a-kind….

  4. Lightndattic 4 May, 2011 at 3:21 am #

    Not a UAV at all.

    Experimental N355SX made by Scaled Composites

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jw2513/5625811648/

  5. MiA92 4 May, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    Looks like an advanced us brother to EADS Harfang.

  6. J. Sanders 4 May, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAV is the future of the Air Force. It proved to be successful doing recon missions specially in Iraq and the Philippines. It not only protects our troops from being exposed to direct enemy fire but it is more accurate. Maybe the Air Force can come up with a UAV capable of carrying out dangerous missions for our Special Forces.

    J. Sanders
    Rapid Prototyping Services

  7. Mark Brueschke 4 May, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Looks like an advanced OV-10 Bronco with a Scaled Composites version of the OV-1 Mohawk’s cockpit.

    Maybe it’s something to do with the USAF Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance RFP?

  8. Stephen Trimble 4 May, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    LAAR’s not a bad guess, but I don’t see ejection seats on this plane. If I had to wildly and baselessly speculate, I’m guessing it’s closer to a one-man (or optionally unmanned) Project Liberty or EMARSS-type aircraft.

  9. EchoTango 4 May, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    My “guess” is this is a flying electronics suite testbed. Even a military UAV would not require the number of antennas and pods this aircraft sports.

    The fact that this is composite airframe only adds to the testbed theory as testing on a metal aircraft would effect the test data. The addition of a cockpit simply reduces to overhead and complexity of the testing infrastructure.

  10. Flight65 4 May, 2011 at 5:18 pm #

    Spotted it over Loomis, CA mid-afternoon 10/10/2010. Sac county airport’s web trak site listed it as an experimental with a flight ID of “SCAT15” out of McClellan and back. EMARSS or another ISR payload is a good bet given NG’s ownership of Scaled and their RC-12 work at McClellan.

  11. Znapel 4 May, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    What kind of sensors do you suppose are in the balls? In the fuzzy far away picture I saw the one and figured EO sensors, but a couple of them (black ones) look literally like balls. I don’t know why you’d have 3 sets of EO sensors, unless they were all for different wavelengths, but still, that’s weird.

    Sure looks like it could vacuum a lot of RF.

  12. puppethead 5 May, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Whilst this doesn’t quite look the same, Gorgon Stare uses multiple EO sensors on the same wavelengths.

  13. J M 5 May, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    No obvious broadband satellite link which may debunk the OPV idea.

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