Virtually Tour The Cockpit Of The Once Top Secret Tacit Blue Stealth Tech Demonstrator

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.


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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.

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V Rat

I hired in with Northrop in the late 1980's. First time I was in my manager’s office I noticed a 8"x10" picture frame on his wall. In that frame was a hand drawn whale that looked like a 10 year old kid drew it. Under the picture was written “The Whale.” No one thought to ask about it, we just all accepted it as a picture one of his kids drew. Over the next several years I noticed the same picture in other people’s offices and work cubes. You have to understand, in our type of work, you just don’t ask about something like that. We figured it was something that couldn’t be talked about anyway.

During those years every once in a while an older guy would show up and shoot the shit with my manager. Maybe a couple times a month. Some times he would join us in the break room and hang out. We new he was someone important that worked on our program, and eventually we found out he was an ex-test pilot. No big deal, test pilots seemed to be every where.

This went on for about 5 years, then in April 1996, I think that was the month, our manager called us all into the conference room. There stood the mystery ex-test pilot. On the table was a stack of photos of the weirdest air craft any of us had ever seen, except for those who had the whale picture on their wall. Turns out the mystery pilot was Richard G. “Dick” Thomas, test pilot for “The Whale” and “The Whale” was Northrop’s Tacit Blue test aircraft. Dick did a short presentation in which he explained what was going on, what the weird aircraft was and then exchanged several people’s framed whale cartoon with a signed and framed picture of the Tacit Blue. He then signed pictures of the Tacit Blue for the rest of us. In the aerospace world, Richard G. “Dick” Thomas was a rock star.

The existence of Tacit Blue was publicly acknowledged a day or so later.