PENTAGON SCRAPS DARKSTAR SPY PLANE; WILL PURSUE ALTERNATIVE JET.
Byline: Jim Skeen Daily News Staff Writer
The Defense Department has canceled the DarkStar spy plane program, saying taxpayers' dollars would be better spent on a cheaper unmanned aircraft Unmanned Aircraft (UA) is a term used in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) definition of Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). UA refers to the aircraft portion of the system required to operate it, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. , officials said Thursday.
DarkStar, built in Palmdale by Lockheed Martin For the former company, see .
Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is a leading multinational aerospace manufacturer and advanced technology company formed in 1995 by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta. Skunk skunk, name for several related New World mammals of the weasel family, characterized by their conspicuous black and white markings and use of a strong, highly offensive odor for defense. Works, is being cut in favor of Global Hawk, an unmanned spy plane being developed by Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical aer·o·nau·tic also aer·o·nau·ti·cal
Of or relating to aeronautics.
aero·nau in San Diego San Diego (săn dēā`gō), city (1990 pop. 1,110,549), seat of San Diego co., S Calif., on San Diego Bay; inc. 1850. San Diego includes the unincorporated communities of La Jolla and Spring Valley. Coronado is across the bay. .
The Skunk Works employs 40 people on the program, and those employees will be reassigned to other work, said company spokesman Ron Lindeke.
``They (the Pentagon) did say there were technological breakthroughs on the program,'' Lindeke said. ``We intended to build on them in future programs.''
Skunk Works officials had envisioned building as many as 40 DarkStar aircraft, intended to be the ``eye in the sky'' for battlefield commanders, transmitting video and radar information to ground forces.
The stealthy stealth·y
adj. stealth·i·er, stealth·i·est
Marked by or acting with quiet, caution, and secrecy intended to avoid notice. See Synonyms at secret. , high-altitude aircraft was designed to be able to linger over a battlefield for more than eight hours and cover more than 14,000 square miles.
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.
The cancellation comes just after the DarkStar completed its first high-altitude flight, which included an in-flight update to the airplane's preplanned flight mission.
There is funding for flight tests for the three existing DarkStar aircraft through September. It was not clear whether the test program would continue.
A total of four DarkStar aircraft were built before the program was canceled. The first was destroyed in a 1996 flight test at Edwards Air Force Base Edwards Air Force Base, U.S. military installation, 301,000 acres (121,805 hectares), S Calif., NE of Lancaster; est. 1933. It is one of the largest air force bases in the United States and has the world's longest runway. .
The Air Force issued no explanation for its decision, but confirmed that the program had been canceled. A Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said DarkStar was considered redundant because of Global Hawk.
Although it is not stealthy like DarkStar, Global Hawk is designed to fly 3,000 miles, conduct reconnaissance for 24 hours Adv. 1. for 24 hours - without stopping; "she worked around the clock"
around the clock, round the clock and return to its base.
A congressional audit report estimated the price for each Global Hawk at $13.7 million compared with $14.8 million for DarkStar.
The first Global Hawk airplane is undergoing flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base.
U.S. Rep. Howard ``Buck'' McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, whose district includes the Skunk Works plant in Palmdale, learned of DarkStar's cancellation during a conversation Thursday with Jacques Gansler, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology.
Gansler informed McKeon there were plans for a successor program to DarkStar that the Skunk Works could vie for, said McKeon spokesman David Foy.
In the meantime Adv. 1. in the meantime - during the intervening time; "meanwhile I will not think about the problem"; "meantime he was attentive to his other interests"; "in the meantime the police were notified"
meantime, meanwhile , McKeon asked Gansler to re-examine re·ex·am·ine also re-ex·am·ine
tr.v. re·ex·am·ined, re·ex·am·in·ing, re·ex·am·ines
1. To examine again or anew; review.
2. Law To question (a witness) again after cross-examination. the possibility of bringing the SR-71 Blackbird out of retirement to meet short-term reconnaissance needs. Foy said McKeon might introduce legislation for the deployment of the SR-71, a 2,000-mph spy plane that first flew in the 1960s.
``The cancellation of DarkStar illustrates the need for reviving the SR-71,'' Foy said. ``There is still a need for high-altitude surveillance.''
PHOTO (Color) Each DarkStar surveillance plane cost an estimated $14.8 million.