by Richard Sheffield
Project Have Blue
Lockheed proposed the idea of developing a strike aircraft that would rely entirely on avoiding radar detection, as opposed to jamming the radar. The Stealth Fighter concept was born. The Skunk Works received funding to produce a full-sized, proof-of-concept aircraft under Project Have Blue. Stealth being such a new concept, a small scale model would simply not do. To convince the skeptics, a full sized, operational aircraft was needed.
The team rapidly turned out the XST, Experimental Stealth Tactical prototype. The primary goal of the program was a very low radar cross section, particularly head-on. The XST was designed and built in Burbank, California, and transported deep inside the Nellis Air Force base in Nevada. The first XST flight took place at a portion of the Nellis facility know as Groom Lake in early 1977. The Nellis facility would be a very good location to test such an aircraft as it houses the Air Force's squadron of captured Soviet aircraft. These include MiG-23s, SU-20s, and probably a few newer MiGs they haven't publicly admitted to having. Also at Nellis are quite a few real and simulated Soviet-built SAM radar systems. With this type of equipment available, they could test their stealth theories against the real thing. The project must have been a success, as they quickly received funding to develop an operational Stealth Fighter.
This success gives the U.S. a very real advantage over the Soviets. It forces them to spend a great deal of money to develop new radar systems for air defense, with no guarantee that even the new systems will be effective as radar-avoiding technology continues to develop.