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LETTER ASKS FOR SPY PLANE FUNDS.

Byline: Jim Skeen Daily News Staff Writer

Lockheed Martin and Boeing executives appealed to an influential congressman for help in getting funding for DarkStar - a stealthy, unmanned spy plane - into the 1999 defense budget.

In a letter dated Tuesday, a day after the program returned to flight status following a two-year layoff, leaders of DarkStar's two prime contractors told House National Security Committee Chairman Floyd Spence, R-S.C., that the program has made substantial progress and that the aircraft deserves to be flown to show its worth.

``We have come a long way over the last two years. We are confident the DarkStar program will demonstrate a level of performance needed by warfighters,'' said the letter, signed by Jack Gordon, president of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, and Jim Evatt, president of Boeing's Information and Communications Systems unit.

This month, the House of Representatives and the Senate will appoint members to a conference committee that will iron out differences between their two defense bills. The House included $40.5 million for DarkStar, while the Senate rejected funding the program.

``When the Senate zeroed out DarkStar we took that as a sign they wanted to see some progress,'' said David Foy, spokesman for Rep. Howard ``Buck'' McKeon, whose district includes the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works plant in Palmdale. ``Now that there has been a successful test flight, that is going to go a long way toward restoring the funding.''

McKeon, a member of the House National Security Committee, is pushing to be appointed to the conference committee, Foy said.

On Monday, Skunk Works released a statement saying the second DarkStar made a successful 46-minute test flight.

The first DarkStar aircraft made a successful flight March 19, 1996, but crashed on takeoff during its second flight April 22, 1996.

The failure prompted wags to dub the aircraft ``DarkSpot,'' referring to the scorched piece of ground where it crashed.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing have spent $30 million to improve the aircraft, including redesigning the flight control and landing gear systems.

Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and its partners in the project, Boeing and Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space, are building two more DarkStar aircraft under a $58.4 million contract with the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency, the same organization that initiated the F-117 stealth fighter program in the 1970s.

``Now, with success in our grasp, is not the time to pull out of this program,'' Gordon and Evatt wrote. ``Vehicles 3 and 4 are paid for and are well along in their fabrication. We respectfully recommend that they should be flown and allowed to demonstrate their worth. The FY (fiscal year) 1999 request provides the funds necessary to assure that would happen.''

Wide, flat and tailless, with a 69-foot wingspan and a blunt fuselage only 15 feet long and 5 feet in diameter, the 8,600-pound aircraft is powered by an engine similar to the one used in the Cessna Citation business jet, capable of propelling DarkStar to altitudes above 45,000 feet.

DarkStar is intended to be the ``eye in the sky'' for battlefield commanders, transmitting video and radar information to ground forces. The stealthy, high-altitude aircraft is designed to be able to linger over a battlefield for more than eight hours and cover more than 14,000 square miles.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 1, 1998
Words:546
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