Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin Shows Off Mysterious Aircraft, Igniting Speculation it Could be Company’s Secret Next-Gen Fighter

Lockheed Martin has once again sparked intrigue and speculation on social media by potentially offering a tantalizing glimpse at its enigmatic Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter jet. 

The aerospace and defense giant recently marked the 80th anniversary of its renowned advanced projects division, Skunk Works, by posting an Instagram story showing a series of silhouettes for some of Skunk Works’ most iconic aircraft. 

The brief video showed renderings of the U-2 “Dragon Lady,” SR-71 “Blackbird,” F-117 “Nighthawk,” F-22 “Raptor,” F-35 “Lightning II,” X-59 QueSST, and the Project Carrera “Speed Racer.” However, the final image in the series revealed an unidentified sleek, delta-wing manned aircraft. 

Unlike anything in Lockheed’s known inventory, the mysterious aircraft captured the attention of aviation enthusiasts, with many speculating it could be Skunk Work’s prototype 6th generation fighter jet for the U.S. Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. 

The Air Force announced in May it had begun soliciting proposals for the 6th generation multi-role NGAD fighter, intended to replace the F-22 Raptor. 

The Air Force has said the NGAD platform will represent a crucial advancement in combat capabilities, with cutting-edge advancements in propulsion, stealth, and weapon system technologies. The future NGAD fighter has also been described as the centerpiece for a “family of systems,” with the advanced fighter jet able to collaborate with autonomous unmanned drones serving as “loyal wingmen.” 

The Air Force intends to award the NGAD contract in 2024, with plans to procure 200 next-generation fighters alongside 1,000 CCA autonomous drones. 

In 2020, former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Dr. Will Roper, announced the Air Force had already secretly designed, built, and flown at least one full-scale 6th generation NGAD prototype. 

“We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it,” Roper told Defense News in an interview ahead of the Air Force Association’s 2020 Air, Space and Cyber Conference. “We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”

Roper’s claims sparked a firestorm of curiosity in the aviation and defense community, as the last known flight of a U.S. fighter prototype, the Boeing X-32 and Lockheed Martin X-35, occurred nearly two decades ago. Both proof-of-concept aircraft competed as part of the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter program, ultimately resulting in the F-35 Lightning II.  

On a recent podcast, Vago Muradian, the editor-in-chief and host of the Defense & Aerospace Report, and J.J. Gertler, director of The Defense Concepts Organization and senior analyst at the Teal Group, reported that at least three NGAD fighter prototypes had already been built and flown. 

Citing unnamed “sources involved in the program,” Muradian and Gertler said three prime contractors initially competed to develop America’s next-generation fighter. The aviation analysts speculated that Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman were the most likely candidates. 

According to Muradian and Gertler, it is likely that only two of the initial three major aerospace corporations are still in the running for the final NGAD contract. 

All clues suggest the NGAD program is further ahead than most might expect. Yet, most of what is going on in the battle to develop America’s next-generation fighter remains shrouded in extreme secrecy. 

However, the war over 6th-generation aircraft teasers has been heating up recently. 

In May, Northrup Gruman published a 15-second ad showing three women walking through an aircraft hanger discussing how the longest full-scaled unmanned flight was piloted and crewed entirely by women. 

To one side of the hanger, an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, EA-18 Growler, and the nose of an RQ-4 Global Hawk can be seen in the background. However, opposite these well-known planes is a front-angle view of unidentified matte black, delta-wing crewed aircraft. 

The mysterious jet appears to have a single cockpit, no vertical tail section, and top-mounted low-observable air intakes, all consistent with features found on stealth aircraft. 

“Shattering records and the glass ceiling,” one woman remarks in the video, with her colleague pondering, “I wonder what records we’ll shatter.” 

The recent unknown aircraft silhouette posted by Lockheed Martin appears to resemble previous renderings of a crewed sixth-generation fighter jet. The concept art, included in a media briefing about the company’s proposal for the Air Force’s next-generation in-flight refueling aircraft and KC-Y competition, similarly revealed a tailless, dual-engine, diamond-wing aircraft. 

Lockheed Martin
Concept art of the Lockheed Martin LMXT tanker showing what has been speculated to be Lockheed Martin’s NGAD concept for its next generation fighter jet. (Image Source: Lockheed Martin)

Lockheed Martin officials said that the renderings didn’t necessarily represent what its NGAD fighter might look like without offering any further clarifying comments. 

Perhaps most intriguing, the recent Lockheed Martin teaser vaguely resembles a mysterious aircraft spotted at the Air Force’s reclusive flight test center at Groom Lake, better known as Area 51. 

The still unknown delta-wing aircraft was spotted parked in a modular, temporary aircraft shelter by the defense news site,  The WarZone, using commercial satellite imagery. 

Ultimately, the true story behind the recent undisclosed aircraft model by Lockheed Martin is unclear and may have nothing to do with the NGAD program. 

It’s also worth noting that Lockheed Martin is well-versed in creating a buzz on social media. 

While congratulating the film Top Gun: Maverick on its six Oscar nominations in March, Lockheed Martin posted an image of the presumably fictional “Darkstar” hypersonic aircraft, ambiguously suggesting the jet could be real. 

Lockheed Martin CEO James Taiclet further fanned the flames by saying, “Darkstar’s capabilities could be more than mere fiction. They could be reality.” 

A Lockheed Martin spokesperson told The Debrief, “I can confirm that we designed Darkstar for the film.” When pressed to clarify recent posts suggesting Darkstar was a “real” aircraft, the spokesperson replied, “I don’t have anything additional to share.” 

For World UFO Day on July 2, Lockheed Martin’s official Twitter account shared a photo showing a front-on view of an F-35 fighter flying at sunset. Against the fiery orange, soft pink, and deep blue background, at first glance, the jet could easily be mistaken for a classic flying saucer. A captain with the photo said, “Alien tech or the F-35? You decide.” 

The Debrief reached out for clarification on this latest mysterious aircraft tease. However, Lockheed Martin’s press office did not respond by the time of publication. 

Tim McMillan is a retired law enforcement executive, investigative reporter and co-founder of The Debrief. His writing typically focuses on defense, national security, the Intelligence Community and topics related to psychology. You can follow Tim on Twitter: @LtTimMcMillan.  Tim can be reached by email: tim@thedebrief.org or through encrypted email: LtTimMcMillan@protonmail.com