I was browsing the latest LRS-B thread when I had a little bit of a EUREKA! moment about everyone's favorite enigmatic bird that we're never going
to see, so I figured I'd share it here.
I have read many posts about how this craft was *not* a Lockheed product, but was more or less a contemporary of the -117 designed to compliment that
aircraft. One sticking point that always comes up is how the companion allegedly looks nothing like the F-117, and that multiple people here have
further and described it as possibly "star-shaped"
Well, I looked at this picture
and it kinda clicked.
It's fairly obvious to me that especially in the early days of stealth, the designers had to work from the outside-in when designing an aircraft, and
that once they found a basic stealthy shape that worked, they'd adapt it by scaling it up or down to meet the specific needs of a given craft. Look
at the F-117/Senior Prom/ATA-B/Senior Peg family of designs, or the different concepts that coalesced into the B-2, and you'll see what I mean.
Now, another pair of aircraft with these similarities, to me, is the Tacit Blue and the YF-23. Both designs feature strong fuselage chines,
mid-mounted trapezoidal wings, buried engines exhausting over the tail, and butterfly ruddervator control surfaces. It's also fairly well-documented
elsewhere that the Tacit Blue's continuous controur-type design was due to trial and error using clay models as much if not more than it was due to
computer modeling, as in the early 80's, the best programs still had difficulty modeling anything more complex than facets (e.g. the Lockheed
designs). So it's pretty clear to me that Northrop found two design families early on, two basic shapes, that worked on the RCS pole. The THAP/B-2
flying wing, which worked for large aircraft, and the trapezoidal-winged, chined, and V-tailed design, which worked for smaller craft.
So IF the companion wasn't a Lockheed product, that more or less means that it HAS to have been a Northrop design, if only because the General
Dynamics/McDonnell Douglas stealth designs were much more primitive at the time. So what did Northrop have at the time for F-117-sized designs? The
Tacit Blue/YF-23 shape, a shape that got very pointy with the YF-23. Now, picture a top-down view of the Tacit Blue and the YF-23 and extrapolate
what the "missing link" between them might have looked like if it didn't have to carry the big radar systems of the Tacit Blue and didn't have to
supercruise like the YF-23, and you get a shorter, squatter shape that could have very easily ended up looking like a 5-pointed star, at least from
the top down.
Now as to it's role, has anyone here ever thought that the idea of a separate target-designation aircraft seems a little silly given the F-117's
ability to do so on it's own? Could it be just as likely that the companion was there not just as an ECM or Wild Weasel aircraft, but as an A2A
platform to act as an escort and protect the F(B)-117 while it took out it's targets? If that's the case, then the YF-23's well-known design
quirks (at least, for a fighter) would make much more sense, if they were already based on an existing sub/transonic stealth A2A platform.
It's all baseless speculation, but it should be some good food for thought...