The RQ-3 DarkStar was a highly-advanced, stealthy reconnaissance remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) designed for use in high-threat environments. Though it never entered production, the DarkStar was an important milestone in the development of even more capable RPAs which followed.
Designed to be fully autonomous, the DarkStar could take off, fly to the target area, operate its sensors, transmit its sensor imagery, return to base and land without human intervention. Using satellite digital links to transmit sensor images, DarkStar could provide timely information across the globe. If needed, ground station operators could control the RPA from anywhere in the world using satellite links.
The DarkStar on display is the second of four built. The first DarkStar flew in 1996 but crashed on its second flight. The museum’s RQ-3 was modified to increase stability and flew in 1998. In January 1999, the Department of Defense ended the program because of cost and aerodynamic stability problems.
The museum received this DarkStar, the only surviving one to have flown, in December 1999.
Engine: One Williams-Rolls FJ44-1A with a takeoff thrust of 1,900 lbs.
Cruising speed: About 288 mph
Range: About 575 miles
Endurance: About 8 hours
Service ceiling: 45,000 feet
Weight: 8,500 lbs.
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