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An unidentified plane captured on camera was later revealed to be the United States Air Force's secret stealth spy drone bat-wing RQ-180 - making its public debut on Instagram.

Photographer and actor Rob Kolinsky captured at least one photo of the spy drone. He was able to upload one shot of the aircraft on Instagram on Saturday, October 31. "This thing flew over my house several weeks ago and I still have yet to identify it," Kolinsky captioned his post, adding that he thought it was shaped "like a B-21," referring to the Raider heavy bomber from Northrop Grumman.

"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 added, asking for help in identifying the mysterious craft.

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Secret Project From The USAF

The following day, November 1, a writer for New York-based publishing company Aviation Week Network positively identified the phantom craft in Kolinsky's shot. Guy Norris wrote an article titled "Possible Photo Of Highly Secret RQ-180 Aircraft Surfaces Online," writing that the aircraft in the picture generally matches the RQ-180 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) based on Aviation Week's knowledge.

As a secret project, the US Air Force never claimed or officially acknowledged the bat-wing RQ-180, developed by American aerospace and defense contractor Northrop Grumman. Aviation Week was also among the first to report on the development of the UAS back in 2013. Six years later in 2019, the publication followed up on the unit's progress, including the development of a fleet that had at least seven of these stealth drones.

"There is a growing body of evidence that the stealthy vehicle is now fully operational with the U.S. Air Force in a penetrating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance role," 

As of this writing, the now-controversial snapshot of the bat-wing RQ-180 has been removed from Kolinsky's Instagram account. However, the photographer has posted a black image with the word "REDACTED" sprawled across, in white text. Kolinsky declared in the caption that until he "dot the 'I's and cross the 'T's," the picture will return.

 

Northrop Grumman RQ-180

As Kolinsky wrote, the RQ-180 does share similarities with the B-2 stealth bomber, also developed by Northrop Grumman. However, the secret unmanned aircraft is significantly smaller compared to the B-2.

In the 2013 article from Aviation Week, it reported that the new UAS was intended to fill the shoes previously filled by the high-speed strategic reconnaissance aircraft Lockheed SR-71, better known as the "Blackbird." As the SR-71 was retired in 1999, the US Air Force began development for a new intelligence platform that can work in tightly-guarded airspaces.

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Aviation Week additionally reported that Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract to develop the RQ-180 sometime in 2008, with the delivery of the aircraft expected by 2013. The publisher also constructed its concept images of the UAS, with one being used for its magazine cover. The images were based on the attributes discovered by the publication, including the supposed "cranked kite" design.

Check out more news and information on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Science Times.