The US Air Force secretly designed, built, and flown a prototype of a next generation fighter jet in the space of a year.
While almost all details of the aircraft will go unrevealed due to security concerns, the Air Force said that it is part of its effort to develop air warfare systems – including drones, fighter jets, and space and cyber warfare.
“We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it,” Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, told Defense News in an interview.
“We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”
The Air Force developed a virtual version of the jet, before making a full-scale prototype and flying it.
The new place was built under the Next Generation Air Dominance program, which aims to build a jet that would either supplement or replace existing planes.
“This is not just something that you can apply to things that are simple systems”, Roper said.
“We’re going after the most complicated systems that have ever been built, and checked all the boxes with this digital technology. In fact, [we’ve] not just checked the boxes, [we’ve] demonstrated something that’s truly magical.”
If the Air Force decides to buy the plane built under the program, it could challenge the F-35 plane.
The first F-35 fighter flew in 2006. As Popular Mechanics points out, this means the Air Force took only one year to reach a point in the program that it took 10 years for the F-35 to get to.
Other aircrafts, such as China’s Chengdu J-20 fighter took a decade of development; Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 “Felon” fighter is also still waiting to be revealed since it was first seen in 2010.
Moreover, because the manufacturing techniques were used by the commercial sector, Defense News suggests that it could open the door for other contractors such as SpaceX.
“I have to imagine there will be a lot of engineers — maybe famous ones with well-known household names with billions of dollars to invest — that will decide starting the world’s greatest aircraft company to build the world’s greatest aircraft with the Air Force is exactly the kind of inspiring thing they want to do as a hobby or even a main gig,” Roper said.
It is unclear which defence contractor designed the jet, but it is likely one of the larger aerospace giants such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, or Boeing.
This is because the United States’ industries have decreased over the past 50 years. President Trump promised to increasing spending on defence in 2017.
The Air Force would also not disclose where the aircraft flew, where it is located, how many prototypes of the craft exists, or what its capabilities are.