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TR-3 Black Manta
Role Stealth spyplane
Manufacturer Northrop
Primary user United States Air Force

The TR-3A Black Manta is reputedly a United States Air Force spyplane. It is allegedly a black program, and its existence is officially denied.

The TR-3A is claimed to be a subsonic stealth spyplane with a flying wing design of some sort. It was alleged to have been used in the Gulf War to provide laser designation for F-117A Nighthawk bombers, for targeting to use with laser-guided bombs (smart bombs). The TR-3A is supposedly manufactured by Northrop Grumman.

Because there is no hard evidence of the involvement of any other stealth aircraft in the Gulf War, another hypothesis has arisen. This holds that whatever vehicle has been identified as the "TR-3" is nothing more than a prototype for the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

Earlier theories that the TR-3 was related to the Tier III programme do not correspond with the time of appearance of the latter. This relation was suggested by the (coincidental) phonetical correspondence. Tier III resulted in 1990s in the RQ-3 DarkStar, an aircraft with a totally different design. That the TR-3 code is a continuation of the TR-1/ER-2 series is also not proven, since all TR-1s and U-2s were renamed U-2R in 1992.

Another candidate for the alleged spyplane is a design from Teledyne Ryan, patented in the United States on April 26, 1977, under number 4,019,699 [1]. This aircraft of low observability as it is called, was invented by Robert W. Wintersdorff and George R. Cota, employees at Teledyne Ryan, a firm specialized in building unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. In the same year, at May 10, 1977, a design of an aircraft was patented by Teledyne Ryan under number Des. 244,265 [2], and closely resembles the earlier mentioned example. This design was made by Waldo Virgil Opfer. The first design is unmanned, the second one manned. Whether one of these designs is related to the above mentioned TR-3A is not positively identified, but it is a coincidence that TR also stands for Teledyne Ryan. Teledyne Ryan was procured by Northrop Grumman in 1999. The Teledyne Ryan designs also strongly resemble the unidentified flying objects photographed in Belgium in 1989/1990, which were chased by the Belgian Air Force and seen by hundreds of people.


  • "TR-3A Evolved From Classified Prototypes, Based on Tactical Penetrator Concept" Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 10, 1991. p 20-21
  • “Triangular Recon Aircraft May be Supporting F-117A” AW&ST, June 10, 1991. p 20. William Scott
  • "America's New Secret Aircraft" Popular Mechanics, December 1991. p. 32-5. Gregory T. Pope
  • "Possible Black Aircraft Seen Flying In Formation with F-117As KC-135s." Aviation Week, March 9, 1992. p. 66-67
  • Popular Science, March 1993
  • "Stealth Watchers" Wired, Issue 2.02 Feb 1994. Phil Patton (article)
  • Google Patent Search, patent 4,019,699, issued April 26, 1977 (description)
  • Google Patent Search, patent Des. 244,265, issued May 10, 1977 (description)
  • NBC Nightly News, August 6, 1997 segment showing U-2 with triangle on undercarriage (CIA, USAF)

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Comparable aircraft

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