TR-3 Black Manta

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TR-3 Black Manta
Role Stealth spyplane
Manufacturer Northrop
Primary user United States Air Force

The TR-3A Black Manta is the name of a reconnaissance airplane of the United States Air Force speculated to be developed under a black project. The only real "evidence" for such an aircraft is based on speculations about several "Reported" sightings of mysterious flying wing aircraft in a track of the California desert known as Antelope Valley. This stretch of desert draws black project fanatics because it is close to several known military research and testing areas, such as Edwards Air Force Base in California, United States Air Force Plant 42, and Groom Lake in Nevada.[1]


The TR-3A is claimed to be a subsonic stealth spy plane with a flying wing design. It was alleged to have been used in the Gulf War to provide laser designation for F-117A Nighthawk bombers, for targeting to use with laser-guided bombs (smart bombs). The TR-3A is supposedly manufactured by Northrop Grumman.[2]

How the TR-3 designation came up in publications is unclear. It is clearly not a continuation of the R-for-Reconnaissance series, since ER-2 (NASA designation for U-2 aircraft modified for earth resources study) stood for "Earth Resources", not "Electronic Reconnaissance". It's therefore possible that TR-3 is merely a corruption of Tier III, a name given to a cancelled large reconnaissance UAV flying wing designed in the timeframe of alleged sightings of the Black Manta (circa 1988/1990). (The Tier III Minus program that resulted in the unsuccessful RQ-3 was a scaled-down derivative of the original Tier III.)

Potential candidates for TR-3[edit]

Because there is no evidence to support TR-3's existence, it is possible that the mysterious flying wing sightings associated with Black Manta could be a technology demonstrator for a potential new-generation tactical reconnaissance aircraft.[3] This contention is supported by USAF sources in the late 1980s confirming that the US had no short-term plans to develop a low-observable U-2 successor.[4]

Another candidate for the alleged spyplane is a design from Teledyne Ryan, patented in the United States on April 26, 1977, under number 4,019,699.[5] This aircraft of low observability as it is called, was invented by Robert W. Wintersdorff and George R. Cota, employees at Teledyne Ryan, a firm specialized in building unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. On May 10, 1977, a design of an aircraft was patented by Teledyne Ryan under number Des. 244,265,[6] and closely resembles the earlier mentioned example. This design was made by Waldo Virgil Opfer. The first design is unmanned, the second one manned. Whether one of these designs is related to the above-mentioned TR-3A is not positively identified, but it is a coincidence that TR also stands for Teledyne Ryan. Teledyne Ryan was procured by Northrop Grumman in 1999. The Teledyne Ryan designs also strongly resemble the unidentified flying objects photographed in Belgium in 1989/1990,[original research?] which were chased by the Belgian Air Force and seen by hundreds of people in what is called the Belgian UFO wave.

See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists


  1. ^ Pope 1991, p. 34
  2. ^ Pope 1991, p. 32
  3. ^ Pope 1991, p. 34
  4. ^ "Stealth Recce," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 28 November 1988, page 19.
  5. ^ Google Patents
  6. ^ Google Patents

Further reading[edit]

  • "TR-3A Evolved From Classified Prototypes, Based on Tactical Penetrator Concept" Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 10, 1991. p 20-21
  • “Triangular Recon Aircraft May be Supporting F-117A” AW&ST, June 10, 1991. p 20. William Scott
  • "America's New Secret Aircraft" Popular Mechanics, December 1991. p. 32-5. Gregory T. Pope
  • "Possible Black Aircraft Seen Flying In Formation with F-117As KC-135s." Aviation Week, March 9, 1992. p. 66-67
  • Popular Science, March 1993
  • "Stealth Watchers" Wired, Issue 2.02 Feb 1994. Phil Patton (article)
  • Google Patent Search, patent 4,019,699, issued April 26, 1977 (description)
  • Google Patent Search, patent Des. 244,265, issued May 10, 1977 (description)
  • NBC Nightly News, August 6, 1997 segment showing U-2 with triangle on undercarriage (CIA, USAF)

External links[edit]