Possible Photo Of Highly Secret RQ-180 Aircraft Surfaces Online

A picture has surfaced showing a new aircraft generally matching Aerospace DAILY’s understanding of the shape of what is commonly known as the RQ-180 unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

Aerospace DAILY understands the picture of the UAS was taken two to three weeks ago inside the Military Operating Area around Edwards AFB, California. 

The picture was taken in daylight hours, and the unknown aircraft was flying above California City in a racetrack pattern at an estimated altitude of 20,000 ft. 

The picture surfaces slightly more than a year after Aerospace DAILY reported that the U.S. Air Force had made the fleet of RQ-180 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft operational. 

The configuration appears to share many of the supposed features of the RQ-180, namely a large-span flying wing with a simple trailing edge and—judging by the contrail—embedded, closely paired twin turbofan engines. 

The high-aspect-ratio wing also appears greater in span than other known large unmanned aircraft and has a relatively low sweep angle.

The unusual light color of the vehicle also is believed to be a link to the RQ-180. A local nickname around Edwards AFB for the RQ-180 is the “Great White Bat”—or sometimes “Shikaka”—a fictional sacred white bat from the 1995 movie Ace Venture 2. 

The “white bat” symbol also has appeared as the badge for the 74th Reconnaissance Squadron. The unit is thought to have become a training squadron for the RQ-180. It is understood to have been established earlier this year, following the 2018 activation of Detachment 5 of the 9th Operations Group at Beale AFB, California.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.

Guy Norris

Guy is a Senior Editor for Aviation Week, covering technology and propulsion. He is based in Colorado Springs.


Contrails at FL200? Not impossible but highly unlikely.