The Bird of Prey Prototype, Developed at Boeing’s Phantom Works Division
Phantom Works is Boeing’s awesomely named prototyping division, which mainly focusses on the development of advanced military products and technologies, many of which are, of course, highly classified. Most of their work is not exactly in the news on a regular basis, but every now and then one of the Phantom Works` projects gets to be made public, usually because secrecy is no longer necessary. One such project was the Bird of Prey.
Named after a Klingon warship (who would’ve thought aerospace engineers would be Star Trek fans, right?), the Bird of Prey started being developed back in 1992 by McDonnell Douglas, at the infamous Area 51 Air Force base. It made its maiden flight on September 11, 1996, and continued being developed after the merger between McDonnell-Douglas and Boeing. The aircraft was eventually made public in October 2002.
The Bird of Prey was not only a revolutionary aircraft, it was also developed in an innovative way. According to Boeing, it was one of the first aircraft programs to use large-scale, single-piece composite materials, as well as low-cost, disposable tooling and 3D virtual reality design and assembly processes (remember, this was done during the 90s!). Thanks to these techniques, the US is still years ahead of all its rivals.
After ten years of development, the reason Boeing finally decided to showcase the Bird of Prey to the world is because the technologies perfected in the process had become industry standards by then, and their concealment was no longer deemed necessary. With this in mind, one can only imagine what awesome aircraft are under development right now at Area 51 and other secret bases around the world, and what alien-like technologies will become “industry standards” in just a few years time!