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The aircraft is described by a U.S. Air Force official as a derivative of the "DarkStar" (Tier 3-minus) program that was canceled after the demonstration aircraft was test flown and then declared operationally unsuitable. The new Lockheed Martin UAV is "highly reliable," in part because of a much improved flight control system, the Air Force official said. "It's the same concept as DarkStar, it's stealthy, and it uses the same apertures and data links," he said. "The numbers are limited. There are a couple of airframes, a ground station and spare parts."
"It has the hull form of the DarkStar, only it's bigger,"
2025 is a study designed to comply with a directive from the chief of staff of the Air Force to examine the
concepts, capabilities, and technologies the United States will require to remain the dominant air and space
force in the future. Presented on 17 June 1996, this report was produced in the Department of Defense school
environment of academic freedom and in the interest of advancing concepts related to national defense. The
views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the
United States Air Force, Department of Defense, or the United States government.
The J97 was unusual in that it was designed to operate at up to 80,000 feet, an altitude at which most jet engines cough, stall, and quit. The Air Force does not send the stealthy B-2 and F-117 over hostile territory in daylight, because those planes could be easily spotted. But at 80,000 feet, six miles above a fighter’s cruising altitude, the sky is almost as black as night, and a UAV could survive at high noon. I suspect that both Polecat and the second, larger stealth UAV are currently undergoing high-altitude flight-testing at Area 51.
However, it appears that this was not quite the end of the story, because during Operation Iraqi Freedom in March/April 2003, the USAF acknowledged the operational use of at least one prototype of a new stealthy high-endurance UAV. Other than being a scaled-up and more capable derivative of the DarkStar, nothing was revealed about this UAV.
Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works is believed to be developing a high-altitude, stealthy unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for the US Air Force (USAF) under a secret programme, funded with money taken from the terminated Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS) project.
The existence of a classified air force UAS project was disclosed in a navy Fiscal Year 2007 budget document, which stated that the Pentagon "directed the J-UCAS programme to split into two separate programmes: one air force classified programme and a navy UCAV [unmanned combat aerial vehicle] programme".
The new UAV, sometimes known as the Penetrating High Altitude Endurance (PHAE), is believed to be capable of operating at the 70,000-80,000 ft altitudes used by the U-2.