Manufacturer: Task Research, Inc., Santa Paula, California
Type: experimental canard kitplane used as advanced technology demonstrator
Program: "Sneeky Pete"
Powerplant:1 x Lycoming O-360 (180 hp), then 1 x Williams FJ107,
Significant date: 1982 (manufactured), 1993 (tested with jet engine)
The story of the Task Vantage (1) prototype is still largely shrouded with mystery. This single pilot manned test-bed was built by Jim Kern's TASK Research Inc. of Santa Paula, California in 1982, which supplied many composite structures/components for the Rutan designed Long-EZ, Defiant, and Voyager aircraft during the early to mid 1980’s (see inset) under contract to Northrop's Electric Mechanical Division in the late 1980s to test early avionics/electronic equipment for remotely piloted vehicles—the forerunners of today’s advanced UAVs and UCAVs (Lockheed conducted similar research with the California Microwave CM-30 at the time, which led to the CM-44 OPV).
The Vantage was a single-seat pusher canard which resembled a Rutan Long-EZ, but was slightly larger with more rounded fuselage sides, a large bulbous two piece canopy. The craft also incorporated an extra long pitot tube in the front. Power was supplied by a single Lycoming O-360 (180 HP) engine turning a variable pitch wood or composite propeller. The aircraft incorporated a retractable nose gear which was powered by an electric motor. The wing root to fuselage joint was blended/contoured and flowed seamlessly into the cockpit. Nicknamed "Sneeky Pete" (1) by its pilots, the undesignated aircraft was outfitted with various special avionics depending on the specific mission requirement. The exterior was painted white, with the name “Sneeky Pete” written along the side of the fuselage, though this is not apparent in the one picture that was released.
Although the maiden flight of "Sneeky Pete" took place at Mojave Airport on July 18th, 1982 with Dick Rutan at the controls (Mike Melvill, along with many others served as test pilots for this aircraft), Rutan Aircraft Factory or Scaled Composites apparently were not involved in the elaboration and building process of the aircraft. It is believed that the flight test program for "Sneeky Pete" first took place at the remote Groom Lake test site in Nevada widely known as "Area 51" (AFFTC DET. 3) in late 1982, and is still ongoing. The aircraft was periodically tested over the years with various equipment, put into seclusion at various times, but has never been officially retired. During its “down time”, "Sneeky Pete" was most likely stored in a top-secret facility known as “Dyson’s Dock” at Groom Lake which was also the location of the Northrop “Tacit Blue” technology demonstrator after it was retired in 1985.
In 1993, "Sneeky Pete" was acquired and rebuilt by Scaled Composites and experimentally fitted with a Williams FJ107 jet engine, a small turbofan engine designed to power cruise missiles and developed by the Williams International company from their WR19.The FJ107 was notably the powerplant for the AGM-86 ALCM, BGM-109 Tomahawk, and AGM-129 ACM, as well as the experimental Williams X-Jet flying platform. In its jet-powered form, the aircraft was first tested in August 1993 and was known at Scaled Composites as the Jet LEZ Vantage or Model 61-B. A striking feature of the revised aircraft was a square, flat section, as seen from below, added at the back of the aircraft. The section wasn’t as wide as the strakes at the front wing roots but was longer along the fuselage, in comparison
Only one airframe was ever constructed. The data gathered throughout the "Sneeky Pete" program contributed to today’s advanced UAVs such as the Northrop/Grumman Global Hawk, General Atomics Predator, Boeing X-45, Northrop/Grumman X-47 Pegasus. The aircraft was returned to a more conventional configuration and still appears on the civil register as being owned by Scaled Composites, but its current whereabouts are unknown, and, like many experimental variants of the Long-EZ, it is not properly documented, due to its classified use by the military.
The nickname "Sneeky Pete" is subject to interpretation (3), but it likely refers to the type being used as a spyplane that sneaks into enemy territory to gather information. The official patch shown at the top of this page is even more cryptic, as it depicts a king with boxing gloves with a mountain and lightning in the background, surrounded by a sitting poodle, an electric guitar, a German shepherd dog, a glass of beer and what looks like a running fox (perhaps evoking the codenames of various military programs involving the aircraft). And in the foreground, a pig carrying the number "21" and the caption "World's Oldest Known Flying Pig." Perhaps this patch was created to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the type's use in secret evaluation programs; as "Sneeky Pete" is the oldest aircraft used in OPV research, this would date the patch circa 2002-2003.
Population:1 (c/n 1) [N3142B]
More about TASK Research
Jim Kern's TASK Research once was a manufacturer of renown in the flight industry, a production-oriented prototyping and development company whose mission was to help clients move along the path from initial concept to finished product. According to a company release, "TASK Research has the mindset, skills and experience to tackle a project from any starting point - from literally little more than verbal instructions and simple sketches to fully detailed drawings."
TASK was a subcontractor for the military and for many aircraft companies such as Lockheed, Northrop and many more; they were involved in many military projects including the Northrop F-20 Tigershark, Lockheed TR-1 program, and supplied materials for U.S. Army helicopter blades. They also built parts for Rutan—notably for the Voyager, of which they were one of the eight original sponsors. The inventive company also designed and built various ride vehicles for Universal Studios (for the "Earthquake," "Back to the Future," and "Miami Vice" rides) and the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton. No question about it, TASK Research always was an aviation "can-do" think tank.
In 1984, Jim Kern developed the experimental Task Silhouette, a handsome single-seater of composite construction which looked a lot as if a Rutan Solitaire fuselage had been fitted with conventional tailplane, wings and forward-mounted engine. The following year, Kern finally got round to making one his long-time dreams come true: to build a P-51D two-third-scale replica fighter...
NOTE: I have been unsuccessful in my search for a photo of Jim Kern. If you have one that you would be willing to share for this site, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll post it!