X-44 Manta: Could This Be What the Air Force’s New Stealth Fighter Looks Like?

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The X-44 Manta: The Future of the US Air Force – The Lockheed Martin X-44 Manta—an acronym for Multi-Axis No Tail Aircraft—was an American conceptual aircraft design that had the potential to be even stealthier than the famed F-22 Raptor.

However, this aircraft’s design never got off the drawing board—but its influence can still be seen in many of today’s next-generation planes.

“Today, more than two decades later, that same concept appears to be found consistently across nearly all official renderings of the Air Force’s next air superiority fighter being developed under the NGAD, or Next Generation Air Dominance, program,” Marine veteran Alex Hollings recently wrote on Sandboxx.

Ashish Menkudale, who worked at Cummins for several years, told Quora that the “X-44 Manta is a design derivative of F-22 Raptor (by Lockheed Martin) with symbolic delta wingspan. But the major difference is elimination of tailplanes and some of primary controls (rudder, elevators, ailerons, flaps). Delta wingspan is continued till the end.”

X-44: Stealth Characteristics

He continued: “Considering its design, it turned out to be a structurally simple, light airframe, with increased fuel volume and better ‘stealth’ characteristics since there would be no movable aerodynamic control surfaces. As a replacement for these eliminated controls, to maneuver plane (yaw, steer and pith), advanced thrust vectoring (multi-axis vectorable exhaust nozzles) is used; somewhat similar to harrier. So, considering its design, its purpose was to be the best stealth aircraft till the date.”

Hollings shared similar sentiments. “If the X-44 Manta could have offered similar performance to the F-22 while also being even harder to detect, it may have been enough to push this aircraft concept off of Lockheed’s notebook pages and into their production facilities. But it wasn’t just stealth the X-44 did better. It also carried a whole lot more hate,” he said.

X-44 Payload Capacity

“While the tailless wedge shape of the X-44 Manta would benefit its stealth profile, it also came with some other significant advantages over America’s existing stealth fighters, like payload capacity and range,” he added.

However, what wasn’t exactly clear was “just what a sort of boost to payload or range the X-44 MANTA may have offered over the F-22, but it would have benefitted not only from the increased internal payload space, but also the increased lift provided by the broader lifting body. That lift could help support more weight while also offering greater efficiency in fuel use.”

However, as Hollings noted, the Manta concept wasn’t necessarily being pursued as a clean sheet fighter development program—but rather as a pure technology-driven demonstrator. Due to this line of thought, starting production on the aircraft from scratch didn’t seem practical at the time.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

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