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RQ-3 Dark Star

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General characteristics
Length 4.6 meters 15 feet
Wingspan 21 meters 69 feet
Height 1.5 meters 5 feet
Empty weight 1,980 kilograms 4,360 pounds
Max. loaded
3,900 kilograms 8,600 pounds
Cruising speed 555 km/h
Service ceiling 15,200 meters 50,000 feet
Endurance 12 hours
Unmanned aerial vehicle

The RQ-3 DarkStar (known as Tier III- during development) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was operated by the US Air Force. Its first flight was on March 29, 1996. The Department of Defense terminated DarkStar in January 1999, after determining the UAV was neither aerodynamically stable nor meeting cost and performance objectives. [1]

The RQ-3 DarkStar was designed as a "high-altitude endurance UAV", and incorporated stealth technology to make it difficult to detect. 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.

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. Two additional RQ-3As were built, but never made any flights before program cancellation. The first of these (A/V #3) is now on display in the Great Gallery of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.

Although purportedly terminated on January 28, 1999, it was reported in April 2003 that the RQ-3 was still in development as a black project.[1] The size and capabilities were reported to have increased somewhat. It was further alleged that the first such example had been used in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[1] There has been no independent confirmation.

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.


General characteristics

Dark Star at the Museum of Flight.
  • Weight: 8,500 lb (3,860 kg)
  • Fuel capacity:
  • Payload:
  • System cost:
  • Inventory:


  • Length: 15 ft (4.6 m)
  • Height: 3 ft 6 in (1.1 m)
  • Wingspan: 69 ft (21.3 m)


  • Cruising speed: 288 mph (464 km/h)
  • Range: 575 mi (925 km)
  • Service ceiling: 45,000 ft (13,500 m)

Related content

RQ-3A Dark Star on display

Comparable aircraft

Designation sequence
Template:Q-UAVs Related lists

See also



External link

de:DarkStar (Drohne) he:RQ-3 דארקסטאר no:RQ-3 Dark Star