The Cormorant
is a new robotic-submarine-spy-plane from Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. Its just a concept for now, but it’s one badass
concept with a very cool photo.

Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works,
famed for the U-2 and Blackbird spy planes that flew higher than
anything else in the world in their day, is trying for a different
altitude record: an airplane that starts and ends its mission 150 feet
underwater. The Cormorant, a stealthy, jet-powered, autonomous aircraft
that could be outfitted with either short-range weapons or surveillance
equipment, is designed to launch out of the Trident missile tubes in
some of the U.S. Navy’s gigantic Cold War–era Ohio-class submarines.
These formerly nuke-toting subs have become less useful in a military
climate evolved to favor surgical strikes over nuclear stalemates, but
the Cormorant could use their now-vacant tubes to provide another
unmanned option for spying on or destroying targets near the coast.

This is no easy task.
The tubes are as long as a semi trailer but about seven feet wide—not
exactly airplane-shaped. The Cormorant has to be strong enough to
withstand the pressure 150 feet underwater—enough to cave in hatches on
a normal aircraft—but light enough to fly. Another challenge: Subs
survive by stealth, and an airplane flying back to the boat could give
its position away.

The Skunk Works’s answer is a
four-ton airplane with gull wings that hinge around its body to fit
inside the missile tube. The craft is made of titanium to resist
corrosion, and any empty spaces are filled with plastic foam to resist
crushing. The rest of the body is pressurized with inert gas.
Inflatable seals keep the weapon-bay doors, engine inlet and exhaust
covers watertight.

The Cormorant does not shoot
out of its tube like a missile. Instead an arm-like docking “saddle”
guides the craft out, sending it floating to the surface while the sub
slips away. As the drone pops out of the water, the rocket boosters
fire and the Cormorant takes off. After completing its mission, the
plane flies to the rendezvous coordinates it receives from the sub and
lands in the sea. The sub then launches a robotic underwater vehicle to
fetch the floating drone.

The Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (Darpa) is funding tests of some of the Cormorant’s
unique systems, including a splashdown model and an underwater-recovery
vehicle. The tests should be completed by September, after which Darpa
will decide whether it will fund a flying prototype.

Courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Cormorant Concept

Courtesy Lockheed Martin