Stealth: The Secret Contest to Invent Invisible Aircraft

Stealth: The Secret Contest to Invent Invisible Aircraft

The story behind the technology that revolutionized both aeronautics, and the course of historyOn a moonless night in January 1991, a dozen airplanes appeared in the skies over Baghdad. Or, rather, didn't appear. They arrived in the dark, their black outlines cloaking them from sight. More importantly, their odd, angular shapes, which made them look like flying origami,...

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Title:Stealth: The Secret Contest to Invent Invisible Aircraft
Author:Peter Westwick
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Stealth: The Secret Contest to Invent Invisible Aircraft Reviews

  • Rod

    A well researched and written treatment of the development of stealth technology. The volume is unusual in that it captures the personalities of the various players quite well, but also provides an excellent treatment of the technical essence of stealth at the laymans level. The author concentrates on the efforts of the two major stealth houses, Lockheed and Grumman, for the most part. This does allow him to drill down to a quite detailed level, but is limited in scope in some cases. For

    A well researched and written treatment of the development of stealth technology. The volume is unusual in that it captures the personalities of the various players quite well, but also provides an excellent treatment of the technical essence of stealth at the layman’s level. The author concentrates on the efforts of the two major stealth houses, Lockheed and Grumman, for the most part. This does allow him to drill down to a quite detailed level, but is limited in scope in some cases. For example, a key aspect of stealth is the synergism between the technology itself and the tactics used to employ it. Northrop management constantly drilled this into their staff, and in fact recognized its importance by setting up its organization to ensure this relationship was carried out. Thus the heart of stealth was the Weapons System Engineering group, which included departments focused on mission and systems analysis as well as the classical observables shops.

    One other shortcoming is the lack of treatment of the other observables. While it is certainly true that reduction of radar cross section is the crowning technical achievements in stealth, a key aspect of the overall stealth design was to ensure that there was no vulnerability to reactive technology development in other sensor domains. For example, the rapid development in electronics meant that infrared detectors were likely to become very much more sensitive during the operational lifetime of the aircraft, and counters to this needed to be developed. As the author points out, there is not a great deal that can be easily done to control skin temperature of an aircraft, but the reflectance (or emissivity) of the plane’s coating can be modified to achieve very low contrast signatures. Design of these coating requires understanding of radiation transport in an optically thick medium, and required both laboratory measurements and complex computer simulations, just as with RCS reduction. None of this is discussed here, nor exactly how the contrails were controlled.

    Note: this reader worked at Northop during the 1980’s.

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