Northrop unveils secret spy plane

May 9, 2011 at 7:44 PM
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SAN DIEGO, May 9 (UPI) -- A spy plane able to fly either unmanned or with a pilot has been unveiled by its Southern California manufacturer after a yearlong development, officials said.

Northrop Grumman Monday released a guitar-laden, power-chord heavy music-type video revealing the 34-foot Firebird it secretly developed in San Diego -- a plane designed to operate as a drone or a piloted aircraft able to be deployed quickly from general aviation airports, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The Firebird was privately funded and built for Northrop by Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan's company based in Mojave, Calif. Scaled Composites was the aerospace entity responsible for SpaceShipOne, the first private manned rocket to make it into space.

The new aircraft, propeller-driven from the rear, went from concept to construction in one year in an effort to help "merge two market areas (military and non-military) into one multi-mission, multi-sensor plane," said Rick Crooks, manager of Northrop's San Diego Firebird program.

Northrop hasn't sold any Firebirds, which -- although targeted heavily at the military market -- do not carry weapons and can fly up to an altitude of 30,000 feet reaching a speed of about 230 mph, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Marketing efforts may focus on government agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, the Union-Tribune reported.

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