Northrop Tacit Blue
For years, there were reports that, around the same time that Lockheed was testing the F-117, that there was a second “stealthy” aircraft, this one for recon work and nicknamed “The Whale” under development. This had some basis in reality, as Northrop was indeed working on an exotic low-observable aircraft, the N-345, more commonly known by its USAF code name of Tacit Blue.
Tacit Blue was also known as the Battlefield Surveillance Aircraft Experimental, and was intended to show that a stealth aircraft with a low-probability of intercept radar could operate over forward areas, finding targets for the new generation of “smart” weapons being developed.
Resembling a loaf of bread with wings and a butterfly tail, Tacit Blue was built around a Hughes radar, and unlike the F-117 used curved surfaces rather than the less aerodynamic facetting of the Lockheed aircraft. Power was provided by a pair of ATF3-6 turbofans fed through a flush dorsal inlet.
Tacit Blue flew from Groom Lake some 135 times between 1982 and 1985. There were plans for an F404-engined production model, but the E-8 Joint STARS was bought to provide a standoff radar aircraft instead. Although it did not enter production, Tacit Blue was a major influence on later Northrop programs.