Based on reviewing many opinions about images, there appears to be two aircraft - a "Hunter" and a "Killer" - by possibly two different
contractors. The "Hunter" variant is the UAV in the first and third images released while the "Killer" is the manned aircraft in the second.
These aircraft are too small to carry any amount of armament after a lengthy ISR mission. When you run an analysis for a span loader aircraft, you
find out the lack of trimmed lift (no tail), the mach numbers needed for turbofan, the pressure recovery on the LO inlets and the overall wing
inefficiency (due to bulges, etc.) kill your endurance.
Add weapons to the ISR and satcom gear weight, translates to induced drag which burns fuel, and so on. This points to the need to spread out the
payloads into two birds - ISR and satcom equipment in the UAV and pilot and armament in the manned variant. Put a pilot in the Killer to make final
decisions on critical strikes and to keep collateral damage minimized to keep the ops quieter longer. CONOPS may be that the Hunter UAV flies 8 to 12
hour (max) missions, at night to stay less visible. The Killer variant engages targets with precision due to a pilot in the loop, but less endurance
- just enough gas to complete the engagement and ferry out.
Hunter Variant - Northrop?
There may be single forward inlet on the upper surface, like many other LO flying wings. Two upper surface port and starboard bulges may house a
MilSatCom transceiver (see work done at MIT Lincoln Labs at www.ll.mit.edu...
The lower centerline bulge, in front of the port side main gear doors, may house an EO/IR or miniSAR 3-axis turret. The small black items on the
turtledeck and port side upper surface may be radar warning receivers, due to the more stringent LO requirements and SAM threats encountered. This
may also indicate they are dealing with SAM protected targets, not necessarily soft targets.
The main landing gear look similar to the Northrop/Lockheed X-47B (see www.air-attack.com...
), which indicates
this variant may be done by Northrop. Notice, between the X-47B and the Hunter variant, that both main gear fold forward with a large drag brace from
the front. Also there's a forward trunnion brace just above the main wheels.
The front gear door shows it's off-centerline and side folds. It could use a castoring wheel, with differential braking, like the Vari-EZE, for
ground steering. The offset may allow the lower surface EO/IR turret to keep it's forward view for takeoff and landing. This allows manual
piloting, like the Predator Ops. This allows the contractor to quickly field a UAV that has little time to perfect fully autonomous launch and
recovery. There's a patent by Northrop for flying wings in cross winds at www.google.com...
Killer Variant - LM or Boeing?
There are differences with the first and third images released. The wing leading edge appears to not be linear, but could be the view angle. The
front gear folds aft. Looks like a wind screen for a pilot on the upper surface which may require a bifurcated duct opening to the upper surface or a
centerline inlet opening to the lower surface, similar to JASSM. There's a real problem with inlet stall at higher angles of attack, so for a manned
aircraft it'd be safer to stick with the belly inlet. This variant may also not need to be as LO as the Hunter, as it may spend less dwell time over
the target area and the threats would be mapped out already by the Hunter, allowing the Killer to steer around them.
Developing two airframes with different systems seems too much for one contractor to handle, so it seems logical to award competitors different
versions. This would also encourage competition and a "best of" design idea sharing.
Just some speculative thoughts.
[edit on 2-12-2009 by TAGBOARD]