The Secret Stealth Fighter That Could Have Changed Everything

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Designing a stealthy fighter aircraft with great maneuverability is certainly achievable today. In the 1990s, however, Lockheed Martin decided to make their own version – one with a sleek airframe but no tail.

Multi-Axis, No-Tail Aircraft

An aircraft that could leverage thrust vector control to manipulate high-end dogfights, the new design skipped on using a conventional tail section in favor of directing the engine’s airflow.

Thrust Vectoring: The plane’s ability to turn the jet exhaust to create forces similar to those created by aerodynamic surfaces like flaps, rudders, and stabilators.

F-22s adopted a slightly different tail than other non-stealth 4th-gen fighters. Soon enough, engineers were looking to recreate the same maneuverability that the Raptor was capable of, minus its tail surfaces.
Based on the Raptor’s design, the delta-shaped stealth fighter would be known as the X-44 MANTA.

A Myriad of Advantages

If successful, the tail-less configuration would allow the Manta to change directions quickly while overwhelming enemy fighters. Moreover, its lack of control surfaces would result in lower observability and a dramatically reduced radar cross-section. 

The concept was designed to be 62-ft long and powered by Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines side-by-side, capable of 35,000 lbs of thrust. In turn, the Manta would be able to achieve speeds of up to 1,500 mph and reach an altitude of almost 50,000 ft.

Mantas would have also featured lower drag and better stealth capabilities, including internal weapons bays loaded with smart bombs and missiles, a 20-mm internal cannon, as well as more fuel capacity and extended range.

More Than Just A Testbed

Even though it never made it past the design phase, many experts believe that the concept’s short life influenced later stealth designs that may be used by America’s next 6th-generation fighter.

Still, analyst Peter Sucui maintains that the Next Generation Air Dominance Fighter will be more than just a more-advanced fighter and instead be a “family of systems” with autonomous capabilities, stealth, a new spectrum of weapons, thermal management of aircraft signature, and supercruise ability.

The US Air Force also recently announced that they have already designed, built, and tested a prototype for such aircraft. In addition, they also simultaneously unveiled an image that showcased a wedge-shaped aircraft without a tail. Therefore, many experts believe that the X-44 might have influenced America’s next prized fighter.