- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2014

Two photographers with a passion for planes have snapped between one and three pictures of what they believe is a previously unidentified type of stealth warplane as it streaked through airspace above Texas.

The photographs were first posted on Aviation Week and then on the blog of Steve Douglass, one of the photographers.

Mr. Douglass wrote, of the photos he and his colleague, Dean Muskett, snapped with the strange plane: “The sky was severe clear and the three contrails stood out like white chalked exclamation points across a deep blue sky.” Mr. Douglass then contacted reporter Bill Sweetman, who wrote of the craft on Aviation Week.

“[Douglass] picked up some apparently related-voice traffic [that] suggests that the aircraft is piloted,” Mr. Sweetman reported. He guessed the plane was either a stealthy radar-jammer or a precision bomber and that whatever it was perhaps came as a replacement to the Air Force’s EF-111 or the F-117.

The photos, taken March 10, suggest the plane has a “cranked-kite” wing shape, a technological development favored at Northrop Grumman. Because of the contrail picked up by the photographs — something that appears only when a craft is above 25,000 feet — and the fact that the plane was still clearly visible from the ground, the unidentified airplane is likely large.

The Air Force has previously implied it’s in the midst of developing new craft that is capable of flying near to enemy lines and using electromagnetic energy to wipe out enemy sensors. As Mr. Sweetman reported, the military branch currently has a gap in its high-precision stealth attack line — so assuming the plane is part of that technological group wouldn’t be far off the mark.

“Look at gaps in the USAF’s line-up,” he said, in Aviation Week. “One obvious example is high-precision stealth attack: The B-2 and F-22 have the ability to drop GPS-inertial weapons on coordinates generated or updated by radar, but that’s not the same as electro-optical targeting and laser guidance, which seemingly went away with the retirement of the F-117 six years ago.”

The Air Force typically tests out is new crafts in the mysterious Area 51 site in Nevada. But the photographers snapped the pictures of the mystery plane above Texas, near Amarillo.

As Mr. Sweetman reported in Aviation Week: “As far as I know, this sort of thing has happened only once since 1956. That was when British magazines started getting eyewitness accounts and grainy photos of the Lockheed U-2, then operating out of RAF Lakenheath on its first spy flights over the Soviet Union. Classified programs have been exposed in all sorts of ways since then.”