Mystery Plane Spotted Flying Over California, US Air Force Won’t Comment

The mystery aircraft may well be Northrop Grumman's highly secretive RQ-180 spy drone.
Chris Young

A picture has surfaced online showing a new aircraft that could be the US Air Force's secretive RQ-180 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) developed by Northrop Grumman.

The picture was posted last month on Instagram by a photographer and actor Rob Kolinsky, who uses the social media handle @sundownerstudios. It has been removed but was re-uploaded onto Twitter via a screengrab.


Is this an RQ-180 spy drone?

The picture, which was taken inside the Military Operating Area around Edwards AFB, California, in daylight hours surfaced almost a year after the U.S. Air Force made their fleet of RQ-180 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft operational, according to Aviation Week.

The aircraft is said to have been flying in a racetrack pattern at an estimated altitude of 20,000 ft (6096 meter).

As per Aviation Week, the aircraft appears to share some of the known features of the highly secret RQ-180. It has a large-span flying wing and, judging by the contrail, two closely paired twin turbofan engines.

The original poster, Rob Kolinsky, pointed out that "this thing flew over my house several weeks ago and I still have yet to identify it."

The 'Great White Bat'

Kolinsky added that the aircraft was shaped like a B-21 but painted in white. Other commenters online also suggested that the aircraft might be Northrop Grumman's B-21, though the white paint job suggests it is more likely to be the RQ-180.

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As Aviation Week points out, the unusually light paint job is a hint that the picture indeed depicts the RQ-180, which is locally nicknamed the "Great White Bat."

"I was not going to post it but I thought that if it were really classified, they wouldn’t be flying it in broad daylight like this,” Kolinsky wrote in his original post. Interesting, then, that he has since taken removed his post from social media.

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