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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

RQ-170 Sentinel
Artist's rendering
Role Unmanned aerial vehicle
Manufacturer Lockheed Martin
Primary user United States Air Force

The RQ-170 Sentinel is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Lockheed Martin and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF). It has been deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.



The RQ-170 Sentinel was developed by Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works as a stealth UAV. Journalists have noted design similarities between the RQ-170 and previous stealth and UAV programs such as the RQ-3 DarkStar and Polecat.[1][2] It is a tail-less flying wing aircraft with pods, presumably for sensors or SATCOMS, built into the upper surface of each wing. Few details of the UAV's characteristics have been released, but estimates of its wingspan range from approximately 65 feet (20 m)[3] to between 75 feet (23 m) and 90 feet (27 m).[4]

The 'RQ' designation indicates that the RQ-170 Sentinel does not carry weapons. Aviation Week's David A. Fulghum believes that the UAV is probably a "tactical, operations-oriented platform and not a strategic intelligence-gathering design".[3]

The USAF confirmed the existence of the RQ-170 Sentinel on December 4, 2009.[3][5] A USAF colonel subsequently commented that RQ-170 is separate from the MQ-X program, which has yet to determine stealth or powerplant requirements, and thus the Sentinel will not replace the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones currently in service.[6]


The RQ-170 is a flying wing design with a single engine and is estimated by Aviation Week as being approximately 66 feet in wingspan.[7] Its takeoff weight is estimated as being greater than the RQ-3 DarkStar's, which was 8,500 pounds. The design lacks several elements common to stealth engineering, namely notched landing gear doors and sharp leading edges. Its has a curved wing planform, and the exhaust is not shielded by the wing.[7] Aviation Week postulates that these elements suggest the designers have avoided 'highly sensitive technologies' due to the near certainty of eventual operational loss inherent with a single engine design and a desire to avoid the risk of compromising leading edge technology.[7] The publication also suggests that the medium-grey color implies a mid-altitude ceiling, unlikely to exceed 50,000 feet since a higher ceiling would normally be painted darker for best concealment.[7] The postulated weight and ceiling parameters suggests the possible use of a General Electric TF34 engine or a variant in the airframe.[7]

Operational history

External images
An RQ-170 Sentinel operating over Afghanistan[3]
Left side of a taxiing Sentinel[8]
Rear view of a Sentinel[4]

The 30th Reconnaissance Squadron operates RQ-170 Sentinels. This squadron, which is based at Tonopah Test Range Airport in Nevada, was activated on September 1, 2005. RQ-170 Sentinels have been deployed to Afghanistan, where one was sighted at Kandahar International Airport in late 2007.[3] This sighting, and the Sentinel's secret status at the time, led aviation expert Bill Sweetman to dub it the "Beast of Kandahar".[9] The fact that the UAV is deployed to Afghanistan, in spite of the Taliban not possessing radar, has led to speculation that the aircraft is being used to spy on Pakistan or Iran.[10][11]

In December 2009, South Korea's JoongAng Daily newspaper reported that the RQ-170 Sentinel had been test-flown in South Korea for the past few months and that it was expected that they would be permanently deployed in 2010 to replace Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft operating from Osan Air Base.[12]



General characteristics

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  • Length:
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  • Wingspan: 65-90' (estimates)


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  1. ^ Fulghum, David A. (8 December 2009). "RQ-170 Has Links to Intelligence Loss to China". Ares (Aviation Week). Retrieved 9 December 2009.  
  2. ^ "Mystery UAV operation in Afghanistan". UV Online. 10 April 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2009.  
  3. ^ a b c d e Fulghum, David A. (4 December 2009). "U.S. Air Force Reveals Operational Stealth UAV". Ares. Aviation Week. Retrieved 4 December 2009.  
  4. ^ a b Sweetman, Bill (11 November 2009). "Another Beast Picture". Ares. Aviation Week. Retrieved 13 December 2009.  
  5. ^ Fulghum, David A. (4 December 2009). "USAF Confirms Stealthy UAV Operations". Aviation Week. Retrieved 8 December 2009.  
  6. ^ Trimble, Stephen (10 December 2009). "RQ-170 not intended to replace Predators and Reapers". The DEW Line (Flight Global). Retrieved 11 December 2009.  
  7. ^ a b c d e Fulghum, David A.; Bill Sweetman (14 December, 2009). "Stealth over Afghanistan". Aviation Week (McGraw-Hill): 26-27.  
  8. ^ Merchet, Jean-Dominique. "L'US Air Force dévoile son drone secret : c'est un RQ-170 Sentinel !". Secret Défense. Libération. Retrieved 9 December 2009.  
  9. ^ Hambling, David (8 December 2009). "Mysteries Surround Afghanistan’s Stealth Drone". Danger Room. Wired. Retrieved 8 December 2009.  
  10. ^ "US Air Force confirms 'Beast of Kandahar' drone". Agence France-Presse. Asiaone. 9 December 2009. Retrieved 9 December 2009.  
  11. ^ Hoffman, Michael, "Unveiling the ‘Beast of Kandahar’", Military Times, December 23, 2009.
  12. ^ "U.S. to base new unmanned spy plane in Korea". JoongAng Daily. 19 December 2009.  

External links


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