With the Tier II+ program Scaled played a strange game of working at the same time for competing companies...

Burt Rutan's Tier II+ design for Northrop Grumman.

All that remains of the Northrop Grumman' Tier II+ contender mockup is this wingless, tailless hull.

Close-up of Northrop Grumman Tier II+ mock-up shows wing stub on top and missing ventral section.

Type: series of widely different high altitude endurance unmanned aerial vehicle designs



Powerplants: 2 (unknown)

Significant date: 1994

In the early 1990s, DARPA defined basic specifications for High-Altitude, Long-Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (HAE UAV) program, designed to satisfy the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office's (DARO) goal of providing extended reconnaissance capability to the Joint Force commander. Extended reconnaissance was defined as "the ability to supply responsive and sustained data from anywhere within enemy territory, day or night, regardless of weather, as the needs of the warfighter dictate." Two complementary HAE UAV systems were developed under this program; a conventional design (Tier II Plus) and a Low Observable configuration (Tier III Minus).

The Tier 2+ program, initially funded to the tune of $115 million, attracted a variety of big-name defense companies. Boeing and Lockheed were jointly developing the Tier III-Minus behind closed doors (this became the RQ-3 Darkstar). The first phase of the Tier II-Plus project was also underway with five rival designs from Loral, Raytheon, Teledyne Ryan, Northrop Grumman, and Orbital Sciences Corp., the latter two each teaming with Scaled Composites.

Northrop Grumman's Tier II+ only existed in the form of a full-scale mock-up. Only the fuselage of this project has been seen on the tarmac at Mojave airport. According to someone who worked on the program, "Northrop still considered the rest of the configuration proprietary", even after the Northrop Grumman team lost out to Teledyne Ryan's, and no information has been made available to this day.

Scaled Composites worked on a third Model 260 design, this time for Martin Marietta. Other Tier II+ contenders are little-known. One interesting proposal was the Valkyrie, offered as a cheaper and less powerful option by Mission Technologies from Hondo, Texas. There is no indication that Burt Rutan ever was involved in a fourth Tier II+ proposal but the Valkyrie design clearly points to a lot of details typical to his work such as tandem wings, twin booms and a pi-tail.

Northrop's and OSC's projects lost out to Teledyne Ryan's Global Hawk. Ironically, Northrop Grumman not only later received a contract to uphaul the Teledyne Ryan UAV, but soon absorbed that very company, thus appropriating its once competitor design; in a further twist of irony, Scaled Composites will now be the prime contractor for the Global Hawk's Model 396 combat version.

Population: no flying article built

Specifications: unknown

Crew/passengers: none


Burt Rutan's Tier II+ design for Martin Marietta.

Burt Rutan's Tier II+ design for Orbital Sciences.

Exclusive CG renderings of the OSC Tier 2+ by John Roncz.

The very Rutan-like Mission Technologies Valkyrie twin-wing, twin-boom and twin-engine aircraft would have had 24h endurance. With a 28m wingspan, the take-off weight would have been 1,600 kg. (Image source: Robert Beechy)