RQ-3A DarkStar
Role High-altitude endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
Manufacturer Lockheed Martin/Boeing
First flight March 29, 1996

The RQ-3 DarkStar (known as Tier III- or "Tier three minus" during development) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Its first flight was on March 29, 1996. The Department of Defense terminated DarkStar in January 1999, after determining the UAV was not aerodynamically stable and was not meeting cost and performance objectives.[1]

Design and development

The RQ-3 DarkStar was designed as a "high-altitude endurance UAV", and incorporated stealth aircraft technology[2][3] to make it difficult to detect, which allowed it to operate within heavily defended airspace, unlike the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, which is unable to operate except under conditions of air supremacy. The DarkStar was fully autonomous: it could take off, fly to its target, operate its sensors, transmit information, return and land without human intervention. Human operators, however, could change the DarkStar's flight plan and sensor orientation through radio or satellite relay. The RQ-3 carried either an optical sensor or radar, and could send digital information to a satellite while still in flight. It used a single airbreathing jet engine of unknown type for propulsion. One source claims it used a Williams-Rolls-Royce FJ44-1A turbofan engine.[4]

The first prototype made its first flight on March 29, 1996, but its second flight, on April 22, 1996, ended in a crash shortly after takeoff. A modified, more stable design (the RQ-3A) first flew on June 29, 1998, and made a total of five flights before the program was canceled just prior to the sixth and final flight planned for the airworthiness test phase. Two additional RQ-3As were built, but never made any flights before program cancellation.[citation needed]

The "R" is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance; "Q" means unmanned aircraft system. The "3" refers to it being the third of a series of purpose-built unmanned reconnaissance aircraft systems.

Although the RQ-3 was terminated on January 28, 1999, a July 2003 Aviation Week and Space Technology article reported in April 2003 that a derivative of the RQ-3 had been used in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[5] There has been no independent confirmation.[citation needed]


RQ-3A DarkStar on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington


Overhead view
DarkStar at the Museum of Flight

General characteristics


See also

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration, and era

Related lists


  1. ^ UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES: DOD's Demonstration Approach Has Improved Project Outcomes Archived 2017-05-20 at the Wayback Machine United States General Accounting Office Report to the Secretary of Defense, August 1999
  2. ^ "DarkStar Tier III Minus".
  3. ^ "DarkStar Tier III Minus".
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-04-09. Retrieved 2016-03-25.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "A Classified Lockheed Martin Unmanned Reconnaissance Aircraft Was Used in Iraq | Aviation Week Network".
  6. ^ "Research and Development Gallery".
  7. ^ "Lockheed Martin/Boeing RQ-3A DarkStar | National Air and Space Museum". Archived from the original on 2019-07-21. Retrieved 2020-02-19.