Lockheed Skunk Works unveils first images of its next-generation aerial tanker

  • Lockheed Skunk Works has released the first peek of its innovative stealth tanker aircraft
  • It is set to take the skies at some point during the 2040s
  • The purpose of the NGAS, also known as KC-Z, is to refuel US and allied warplanes

Published on May 17, 2024 at 3:27 PM (UTC+4)
by Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

Last updated on May 17, 2024 at 7:16 PM (UTC+4)
Edited by Tom Wood

The famously secretive Lockheed Skunk Works has released the first peek at its unprecedented aerial tanker.

The artist’s concept pictures show the innovative stealth tanker aircraft, which is set to take the skies at some point during the 2040s.

The purpose of the Next-Generation Air Refueling System (NGAS) tanker, also known as KC-Z, is to refuel US and allied warplanes.

READ MORE! F-35 vs. F-22 Raptor: which is the best fighter jet in the USAF arsenal?

It will be able to do this from long distances and close to combat zones, allowing US warplanes to operate further from military bases but no details have been released so far.

The image appears to show a small and agile aircraft to carry as much fuel as possible into contested airspace.

With lambda-style wings, its futuristic design simultaneously offers stealth and strength.

The chine-line is designed to disrupt radar signals, running the fuselage nose backward to blend with the wing.

Rounded and recessed twin air intakes, and a double V-tail suggesting recessed exhausts will also reduce radar and heat signatures.

The two-person cockpit offers high visibility, with a projecting and fully autonomous reduce system nixing the need for a boom operator.

A refueling port on top of the NGAS fuselage suggests that to increase mission range even further, the tanker could accept fuel from another tanker itself during flight.

Aerial tankers will replace the fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers when they are retired.

Aerial tankers provided the necessary tech that has allowed B-52s to reach anywhere in the world since the 1950s.

They also enabled British Vulcan bombers to leave bases in the south of England before striking targets in the South Atlantic during the Falklands War.

If war breaks out in the Indo-Pacific region, they will be needed to enable allied aircraft to operate at long distances over open seas and get closer to the front lines.

The eye-watering cost of the NGAS suggests the US Air Force intends for them to act as multi-mission platforms, for intelligence and reconnaissance, command and control, or as arsenal ships for swarms and missiles.

It must be able to multitask from stealth to range and high survivability.

We are still waiting for the fastest plane ever, the SR-72 ‘Son of Blackbird’ to enter active service.

Officially known as the Advanced Development Programs (ADP), the highly secretive Lockheed Skunk Works division was founded on an unknown date between 1939 and 1943.

Lockheed Skunk Works has produced classic aircraft including the P-38 Lightning, P-80 Shooting Star, the U-2, F-117 Nighthawk, and F-35 Lightning II.

It also made the SR-71 Blackbird, whose tiny cockpit makes its supersonic speed seem almost impossible.

This is in addition to the F-22 Raptor – check out this extremely rare cockpit POV footage.


Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones

London-based Amelia cut her journalistic teeth covering all things lifestyle, wellness and luxury in the UK capital. Fast-forward a decade and the experienced content creator and editor has put pen to paper for glossy magazines, busy newsrooms and coveted brands. When her OOO is on you can find her spending quality time with her young family, in the gym or exploring the city she loves.