TR-3 Black Manta

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

The TR-3A Black Manta is the name of a surveillance aircraft of the United States Air Force speculated to be developed under a so-called "black project." The only evidence for such an aircraft is based on speculations about several reported sightings of mysterious flying wing aircraft over Antelope Valley, an area of desert in southern California. This stretch of desert draws people interested in potential "black project"-related aircraft, because it is close to several known military research and testing areas, such as Edwards Air Force Base in California, and United States Air Force Plant 42.[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 Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk bombers, for targeting to use with laser-guided 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 science studies) stood for "Earth Resources", not "Electronic Reconnaissance". It is, therefore possible that TR-3 is merely a corruption of Tier III, a name given to a cancelled large reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flying wing designed around the time of alleged sightings of the Black Manta, circa 1988–1990. The Tier III Minus program that resulted in the unsuccessful Lockheed Martin RQ-3 DarkStar 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, only sightings and "experience" stories by real people and also the web discussions on it, 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 United States Air Force (USAF) sources in the late 1980s confirming that the United States had no short-term plans to develop a low-observable U-2 successor.[4]

Another candidate for the alleged spy plane 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 acquired 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 & 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]