Although Lockheed’s “Have Blue” prototype that eventually led to the F-117 Nighthawk is widely recognized as the grand daddy of stealth technology, Northrop’s Tacit Blue, aka “The Whale,” demonstrator arguably had an even greater impact on the future of stealth. Now, by clicking here you virtually tour the cockpit of this bizarre flying machine.
Our good friend Lyle Jansma, creator of the 360 Cockpit app, has been working through the National Museum Of The Air Force’s unrivaled collection of aircraft, allowing us to see inside many of them for the first time, and in his signature virtual 360 style. Recently we featured his cockpit tour of the legendary XB-70 Valkyrie, but the cockpit of the less glamorous Tacit Blue is in many ways even more intriguing.
You can read here all about how Tacit Blue revolutionized stealth technology and airborne reconnaissance, proving that a very low observable aircraft could survive and persist deep inside enemy airspace. In many ways Tacit Blue was the father not just of the B-2 Spirit bomber, but also of the RQ-170 Sentinel and the whole unmanned penetrating reconnaissance aircraft concept that is now just coming to fruition, well at least publicly.
The BSAX program that Tacit Blue supported also made low-probability of intercept radars a viable surveillance tool, and helped develop the data-links that control unmanned aircraft today.
In The Whale’s cockpit you can see that there are six mysterious stars painted on the left-hand console. This is the cryptic symbol for Area 51 (5+1 stars), the place where Tacit Blue lived and worked during its entire operational life, from early to mid 1980s. The same symbol is seen on many classified programs’ patches that were also hosted at the secret base.
The design of The Whale’s cockpit is Northrop-esque all the way. It features a clean, roomy and straight forward layout, and resembles something between an F-5's cockpit and a B-2s cockpit. Obviously some side panels have been removed. These likely controlled some functions of the aircraft’s elaborate and relatively large radar system that sat behind the cockpit and was blended with the aircraft’s skin. Still, it is known that some of Tacit Blue’s actual functionality was controlled off-aircraft, by ground controllers that received the aircraft’s sensor information via data-link.
It is somewhat intriguing, and indicative of Tacit Blue’s experimental nature, that such an exotic looking flying machine would have such a conservative cockpit configuration. Then again, under all the mystique and crazy looking design elements, it is still just another jet at heart.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.