Stealth Technology For Jets: The origins


We should flash back to the Cold War, in 1970s. There was a strong competition between the Soviet Union and the United States to develop better supersonic planes and make them undetectable to the radar. Many spies, top secrets, Russian mathematicians that work for the states and geopolitical interests made the world a complex and dangerous place. Different age, different perils, but the world situation is still unpredictable 40 years later.

In Lockheed Aircraft were working many mathematicians and physicists, like in many other companies of the aeronautics sector. One of the was called Denyes Overholser. He was investigating in the Radar systems development division and was following the works from a country’s rival Petr Ufimtsev, but anonymous colleague in the field of science. Denyes used the model developed by Petr and created a software code called Echo 1. This program allowed for the first time to predict the radar profile of an aircraft constructed with flat panels. These panels were called later facets. Soon later, the different engineers at Lockheed discovered that a plane made with these kind of surfaces could have low radar profile “because the surfaces would radiate almost all of the radar energy away from the receiver”.

A model simulation was quickly constructed by  Lockheed and was called “the Hopeless Diamond”. It really looked like a squat diamond, and looked too hopeless to ever fly. At that time it was thought it would never fly. However, the computers were made more powerful and software a board could stabilize what seems too hopeless to ever fly. This first structure barely resembles that of the F-117 strike fighter.

However, it was still not perfect for several reasons. The point that involves the reduction of radar cross section was only one of five issues the developers had to solve to design a truly stealthy design such as the F-22 Raptor. Another improvement for the F-22 has been to disguise its infrared emissions so they can make it harder to detect by infrared homing (“heat seeking”) surface-to-air or air-to-air missiles. Another minor issues were to make it literally “less visible to the naked eye”, or decreasing the radio emissions, and even the noise abatement.

In history, the first operation that involved the stealth aircrafts was  in December 1989 during Operation Just Cause in Panama. Later, in 1991, the most heavily fortified targets in Iraq in the Operation Desert Storm were assigned to the F-117s. Only the units with this fighter were allowed to operated inside Baghdad’s city limits, whose anti-air defense was the strongest one in the war. Only one F-117 was lost in combat during the Balkans War in 1991.


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