The YF-118G explained: The streaming service Paramount+ could practically rename itself “Star Trek TV” – even though it is also home to the acclaimed Yellowstone prequel 1883.
Fans of the Star Trek series are likely familiar with the Klingon Bird of Prey, which remains one of the most common fictional starships in the franchise.
It was first introduced in the 1984 film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and appeared in five of those films, as well as frequently in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
The ship is a fan favorite, which explains why a very real, yet experimental aircraft developed by McDonnell Douglas and Boeing in the 1990s was nicknamed the “Bird of Prey.”
Unlike the Klingon ship, the Boeing YF-118G does not have a “cloaking device” that makes it invisible to both the naked eye and scanners, yet the black project aircraft was actually designed to demonstrate stealth technology.
As part of a secret project that ran from 1992 to 1999, the single-seat aircraft was actually a demonstrator used to test “low observable” stealth techniques as well as new methods of aircraft design and construction.
Science fiction fans should also be aware that the experimental aircraft was tested in the top-secret “Area 51,” where it made its first flight in 1996.
The YF-118G legacy
While the YF-118G didn’t boldly fly where no one had gone before, it did take to the skies a total of 38 times and was used to find ways to make aircraft less visible not only to radar but also to the eye make.
More importantly, the program helped validate new ways to design and build aircraft using large, one-piece composite structures and “virtual reality” computer-aided design and assembly, as well as disposable tooling.
Boeing also used standard “off-the-shelf” technology to reduce the cost of developing the test aircraft, which further accelerated production. Not-so-secret components included the fully manual control system with no computer assistance, while the landing gear was borrowed from Beech King Air and Queen Air aircraft.
The Bird of Prey also couldn’t reach warp speed because it was powered by a single, readily available Pratt & Whitney JT15D-5C turbofan, which still delivered 3,190 pounds of thrust and allowed the vehicle to reach a top speed of 300 mph hour and a ceiling of 20,000 feet.
The aircraft made its last flight in 1999 and was released three years later when its construction techniques had become standard practice. Thanks to the Bird of Prey, Boeing was able to use these techniques in the development of demonstrators for the X-32 Joint Strike Fighter and later in the prototype of its X-45A unmanned combat aircraft.
Part of the Bird of Prey’s lasting legacy remains its ability to demonstrate advances in stealth concepts, particularly the “gapless” control surfaces designed to blend seamlessly into the wings to reduce radar visibility while engine intake The front was completely shielded from the motor.
In 2002, Boeing donated the only YF-118G Bird of Prey to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) outside Dayton, Ohio.
The once top-secret aircraft was put on public display on October 18, 2002 – and despite its stealth technology, it can be seen and photographed every day.
Expert Bio: Peter Suciu, Senior Editor of the Year 1945, is a Michigan-based author who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites with over 3,000 published articles over the course of his twenty-year career as a journalist. He writes regularly about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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