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The Bird of Prey was a black project aircraft.

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The Bird of Prey was a black project aircraft, intended to demonstrate stealth technology. Bird of Prey was developed by what is now a part of Boeing. Bird of Prey was funded by the company at a price of $67 million. Bird of Prey was a very cost-effective program (compared to many other programs of similar scale), developing technology and materials which would later be used on Boeing's X-45 UCAV. As an internal project, the Bird of Prey aircraft was not given an X-plane designation.

There are no public plans to make this a production aircraft. Bird of Prey is characterized as a technology demonstrator.


Bird of Prey.
Bird of Prey.
Type Stealth testbed
Manufacturer Boeing
Maiden flight 1996
Retired 1999
Status Experimental
Number built 1
Bird of Prey.
Bird of Prey in flight (artist's rendering).

Development of the Bird of Prey began in 1992 by then-McDonnell Douglas' Phantom Works division for special projects. Phantom Works is now a part of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. The aircraft's name is a reference to the Bird of Prey spacecraft from the Star Trek television series.

The first flight was in 1996, and 39 more were performed through the program's conclusion in 1999. The Bird of Prey is rumored to have been used to test active camouflage, which would involve coatings or panels capable of changing color or luminosity.

While these are unconfirmable press rumors, the Bird of Prey was otherwise key in the development of a new kind of low-visibility camouflage. Areas that are usually lit most brightly (such as the horizontal flat surfaces over the wings and the top of the fuselage) were painted more darkly, and areas that are usually not quite as bright (such as the sides of the fuselage and other more vertical surfaces) were painted a lighter shade of gray. This reduced the overall contrast of the aircraft, making the whole shape appear to be one relatively even shade of gray. This made the Bird of Prey's features difficult to discern, and made it harder to see against the sky. These low-visibility ideas are currently in use in the F-22 Raptor.

The aircraft was made public on October 18, 2002, and was put on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio on July 16, 2003.

Design characteristics of the Bird of Prey.

Bird of Prey.
Bird of Prey.

Because it is a demonstration aircraft, the Bird of Prey used a commercial off-the-shelf turbofan engine and manual hydraulic controls rather than fly-by-wire. This shortened the development time and reduced the cost significantly (a production aircraft would have computerized controls). The shape is aerodynamically stable enough to be flown without computer correction, a characteristic not found in other modern fighters or stealth planes, such as the F-16 or the F-117, respectively. This is because the Bird of Prey was designed to test concepts other than agility. Its aerodynamic stability is due to the same mechanisms found in canard aircraft such as the VariEze - the canards, however, are replaced by the flattened shape of the forward fuselage, whose chines generate enough lift to keep the nose from sinking. This configuration, which can be stable without horizontal tails and without a conventional vertical tail, is now a standard in modern stealth UAVs such as the X-45 and X-47, tailless aircraft which use drag rudders (asymmetrically-used wingtip airbrakes) for rudder control.

Specifications of the Bird of Prey.

Data from {name of first source}

Bird of Prey project patch.
Bird of Prey project patch. Note that the shape of the sword's hilt closely resembles the airframe of the Bird of Prey aircraft.

General characteristics of the Boeing Bird of Prey.

  • Crew: 1.
  • Length: approximately 47 ft 0 in (14.30 m).
  • Wingspan: approximately 23 ft 0 in (7.00 m).
  • Height: ().
  • Max takeoff weight: 7,380 lb (3,350 kg).
  • Powerplant: 1 Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-5C , 2,900 lbf (12.9 kN).

Performance of the Boeing Bird of Prey.

  • Maximum speed: 260 knots (482 km/h).
  • Service ceiling: 20,000 ft (6,100 m).

Related content and development of the Boeing Bird of Prey.

  • Boeing X-45.

Comparable aircraft to the Boeing Bird of Prey.

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