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.

Tacit Blue image

Tacit Blue landing gear photo

Tacit Blue main landing gear

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.

F-117 walk around