The Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) codename for the United States stealth aircraft project. In a rare showing of clever and appropriate naming conventions, Project HARVEY derived its name from the invisible rabbit from the Hollywood movie (and Broadway play) of the same name.
During the Vietnam
conflict, it became painfully apparent that the United States Air Force
) was woefully unprepared for the new reality of radar
guided anti-air defenses. The USAF suffered unacceptable losses to enemy surface-to-air missiles
s) and radar-guided anti-aircraft artillery
). To make matters worse, early-warning radar systems allowed the Viet Cong
to scramble highly maneuverable fighter interceptor
and fighter type aircraft and successfully interdict the USAF'S vulnerable attack and bomber aircraft. America attempted to adapt to the situation through fighter training schools (such as the famous Top Gun
program) and anti-air suppression patrols, known as "Wild Weasel
" patrols, but the losses continued to mount. In 1973, the Israelis, who traditionally act as a test platform for American weapons systems and tactics due to their frequent conflicts with neighboring Arab states, lost 40 fighter aircraft to SAM/AAA fire in the first two days of the Yom Kippur War
In 1974, DARPA initiated Project HARVEY to investigate the possibility of producing a "low-observable". or stealth aircraft. The project involved four major aircraft manufacturers (Lockheed-Martin
, and McDonnell-Douglas
) competing to produce a stealth prototype. Lockheed-Martin began the project with a large lead in terms of theory and experience due to the participation of Denys Overholser
and his now-legendary "Skunk Works
" in Project Oxcart
, although it was still highly classified at the time.
Project OXCART was initiated in 1956 by the CIA to develop a replacement to the U-2 for strategic reconnaisence. The project picked up steam in 1960 when Colonel Francis Gary Powers was downed by a Russian SAM. The replacement plane was made to be as stealthy as possible, involving the first use of radar absorbent materials (RAM) and a low-profile shape. The final result of OXCART was the famed SR-71 Blackbird, first flown in 1964. In an interesting side note, despite the fact that it has a very low radar cross section, the FAA reports that the Blackbird has the largest radar signature of any aircraft on record. This is believed to be due to reflections from the massive exhaust plume and shockwaves generated by the plane in flight.
Overholser and his team achieved their break upon the discovery, in the public domain, of a rather dry and academic set of derivations of Maxwell's Equations. The book, titled "Method of Edge Waves In The Physical Theory of Diffraction," by obscure Russian physicist Pytor Ufimtsev showed how to, among other things, numerically calculate the radar cross-section of a three dimensional object. The Skunk Works team designed a computer system named ECHO 1 to churn through the laborious computations and set about designing something that would fly. They determined that, partly due to computing resources, the best design would be a set of flat panels that would always scatter the radar away from the source. Because of this faceted design, Lockheed named the project Hopeless Diamond.
Lockheed submitted Hopeless Diamond to DARPA in 1977, who gave them a contract to construct two scale models. Lockheed delivered these models three months later to America's Favorite Secret Base at Groom Lake, popularly known as Area 51. Please note that, officially, even today, there is no Air Force base at Groom Lake <fnord>. The model aircraft were codenamed Have Blue and the project promptly went deep black.
Initial radar testing on Have Blue far exceeded expectations. When a model was placed on a pole in a radar test range, it had to be constantly visually monitored to make sure that it haddent fallen off because it had no detectable radar signature. Through the course of testing, it was demonstrated that Have Blue was undetectable by all airborne radar systems except those on the Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS. It was also invisible to all ground-based radar systems until it was well within the minimum range of the associated missile.
Flight tests, however, were a sticking point. Have Blue was the first aircraft in history to be completely unstable on every axis. State-of-the-(1970's)-art fly-by-wire systems linked to computers constantly monitored an adjusted every control surface on the plane in attempt to keep it pointed in the direction that the pilot wanted. To this end, it was mostly successful, but still managed to earn the nickname "Wobblin' Goblin." Also, due the stealthy design, the aircraft had no flaps or airbrakes, and therefore, a very high landing speed. These two unfortunate circumstances came together tragically in 1978 when a landing gear failure caused the destruction of Have Blue #1001 and the serious injury of the the test pilot. Tests on the second Have Blue continued successfully until 1979 when an engine fire destroyed it as well.
The USAF was so pleased with Have Blue that they immediately ordered the production of a full-scale combat-ready aircraft. This aircraft, designated the F-117A Nighthawk was first delivered in 1982 and, in a truly amazing example of information control, remained completely secret until their first official use in Operation Just Cause in 1989.
Project Harvey is remarkable for a number of reasons. First is the absolute secrecy in which it was conducted. It was designed in the late 1970's and remained completely secret for nearly fifteen years. The plane was in operational service for seven years before anyone had even heard about it. Area 51 rose to notoriety in conspiracy subculture during this period, presumably because of the unorthodox appearance of the craft. When word was leaked of a stealth aircraft, the USAF invented
an entire fake aircraft project as a ruse. There never was an F-19
, despite it being featured prominently in model airplanes, computer "simulations" (Remember Microprose
's F-19 Stealth Fighter
?), and even in Tom Clancy
's Red Storm Rising
. The second remarkable feature is the stunning success of the project. As evidenced in combat duty, stealth technology is every bit as good as advertised. To this day, close to twenty-five years later, the F-117A is as undetectable as ever, and no other nation has anything that can even compare to it.