In 1987, a year before the Reagan administration revealed the existence of the F-117A, a fact-finding group of US Air Force officers was taken to a closed-off section of Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm's (MBB's) plant at Ottobrunn in Bavaria and shown a three-quarter-scale wind-tunnel model of an aircraft that MBB had been developing under the tightest secrecy since 1981.
According to high-level Luftwaffe sources, the Americans were startled by what they saw: a stealth aircraft, dubbed the Medium Range Missile Fighter or Lampyridae (Firefly), whose core design principle - deriving an efficient aerodynamic shape out of an arrangement of radar-deflecting flat panels or 'facets' - mirrored the technique employed on the then top secret F-117A. The demonstrator was subsequently tested in a series of tethered flights in a wind-tunnel complex owned jointly by the German and Netherlands governments.
Shortly after the visit of the USAF delegation to Ottobrunn, under a directive that has never been adequately explained, the German government cancelled Lampyridae, even though all tests on the wind-tunnel model, which was big enough to accommodate a pilot, showed that the design was highly effective. So effective, in fact, that MBB was convinced that it was poised to receive an order from Bonn to develop the Lampyridae into the world's first air-to-air stealth interceptor. When the Lampyridae's existence was finally acknowledged in 1995, a number of German engineers who had worked on the programme began making the allegation that the cancellation order had been issued as a direct result of US pressure on the German government to drop the programme. The implication being that the USA was determined to keep the breakthrough science of stealth in US hands.
Senior engineers at the Military Aircraft division of the EADS company at Ottobrunn - the successor organisation to the fighter design side of MBB - are able to be more philosophical than their forebears about the Lampyridae saga. "Everyone makes a secret of it, but Maxwell's equations have been around for more than a hundred years," says Dr Peter Brecher, vice president for technology management at EADS Military Aircraft.
Operational research in the mid-to-late 1970s showed that the Warsaw Pact's air defences were so dense along Germany's borders that the Luftwaffe would suffer unacceptably heavy attrition losses should NATO have to fight a high-intensity war. To alleviate these attrition rates, German technicians were forced to address the issue of detection ranges by Soviet air defence radars and interceptors. That, in turn, led them to look again at the equations of the 19th century physicist James Clerk Maxwell, whose computations on the transmission, absorption and reflection properties of electromagnetic waves are the underpinnings of radar development - and of stealth.
It was this same analytical process that led to the development of the F-117A in the USA, demonstrating that the parallel appearance of Lampyridae in Germany was not as coincidental - or as sinister - as the US fact-finding mission supposed. "The principles are well known through Maxwell, it's the fine-tuning of those principles that is sensitive," says Dr Brecher. "What makes me confident is that in Germany we have had a quarter century of permanent research into stealth." The point is, stealth outside the USA is a reality - and has been for at least 25 years.
In Germany, stealth activity continued after the cancellation of the Lampyridae. In the mid-1990s, DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (DASA), MBB's successor company, commenced work on a new stealth programme called the Technology Demonstrator for Enhancement and Future Systems (TDEFS).
The TDEFS was proposed as a European stealth technology demonstrator with both manned and unmanned variants. Like Lampyridae, TDEFS was ready for development, but the program collapsed due to a lack of money and interest from Europe's other main combat aircraft companies, which were engaged in their own stealth activities.
With major LO development facilities at Manching in Bavaria and Bremen, DASA continued its development of stealth shaping techniques and radar absorbent material (RAM). Today, the Signature Technology Department in Bremen is charged with the development of stealth technologies for the whole of EADS' Military Aircraft. The unit is responsible for stealth concepts, for the camouflaging of components and objects, for signature measurement, calculation and verification, and the development of RAM. There are two indoor RCS measuring facilities at Bremen, used for analysing objects up to 5m in size and one tonne in weight. A third facility is operated jointly with STN Atlas Elektronik. In addition, a new outdoor RCS range has recently opened at Manching where the radar returns of full-size aircraft up to 45 tonnes can be measured.
The information above was originally from: Nick Cook& Bill Sweetman, "Hidden Agenda." Jane's Defence Weekly. 15 June 2001.
It has been published on the internet at:
I have republished it here because the invisible-defenders.org domain doesn't seem to exist anymore (as of 1 dec 2004).
back to Lampyridae page