Interesting “shark with laser beam” art appears on a strange test plane

One of two Son of Ares 401 stealth aircraft was recently spotted landing at the Mojave Air and Space Port with a still strange, but now familiar belly pod mounted under the forward section of the fuselage. An eccentric depiction of a shark with what appears to be a laser attached to its head – a reference to a famous scene from the 1997 Mike Myers spy comedy Austin powers – Indicates that it is associated with a directed power system of some kind. This is exactly what war zonewho was the first to report this mod for nearly two years to this date, has brought it up previously, where you can read more about it here.


Twitter user @task_force23 He shot the plane, which had US civil registration number N401XP and was using the “Scat 71” call sign at the time, on October 16 and was kind enough to share it with us. An L-39 Albatros jet trainer belonging to Gauntlet Aerospace, numbered N25PX, was observed flying close to the N401XP likely as a pursuit aircraft or as part of a test itself.

N25PX, lower right, flew close to N401XP on October 16. @task_force23
A clearer look at the N25PX. @task_force23

The most eye-catching addition to the N401XP is the ‘Weird Laser Headed Shark’ artwork on the ventral chamber. Scaled Composites, a popular and cutting-edge aerospace design firm that is currently a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, is known for adding tongue-in-cheek markings to its aircraft.


The art on the ventral case of the N401XP is no doubt a reference to the scene in the clip below from the 1997 movie. Austin powers.

In fact, the nickname “son of Ares” for these planes – also called Phobos and Deimos, sons of Ares, the god of war, in Greek mythology – is a reference to the Efficient Experimental Effector-Responsive Support for Scaled Composites (ARES) is confirmed by During the drawing of “The World’s Greatest Dad” was spotted aboard the oldest plane in 2018, you can read more about it here. At various points, the ARES plane, which Scaled Composites continues to use for testing purposes, has been seen with a “Chemtrail Tank” sign mocking this conspiracy theory and a satellite communications dome on top of the fuselage painted to look like R2-D2, the fan-favorite robot from the Star Wars series.

The capsule seen yesterday on the N401XP looks almost unchanged from when it was first spotted on that aircraft in October 2020. It still features a wide front intake hinge, two small antennas, one black and one white, underneath and a large exhaust pipe in the rear, which is angled down. .

In addition to the laser-engraved shark graphic on the side, there is now also a warning label that reads “JET BLAST – DANGER” with an arrow pointing to the exhaust nozzle. This indicates that the exhaust system is connected to an auxiliary power unit (APU) of some kind, but there are other possibilities as well.

Although the new images we have of the N401XP from October 16th don’t offer a clear look at the right side of the pod, the bottom view clearly shows that the hatch that was there two years ago is still there as well.

A look at the underside of the N401XP on October 16th. @task_force23

Other than that, the N401XP looks largely in the same configuration, at least outwardly as it was two years ago, including a prominent “hump” or “bulge” under the fuselage just behind the ventral bursa. The aircraft has noticeably gained two additional antennas on either side of the underside of the nose. At least one of these new antennas, along with another seen on the plane in 2020, is attached to a clearly defined part of the nose.

Close-up view of the nose of the N401XP showing two new antennas, right and left, as well as a small white one previously seen. @task_force23
From the side, it is not entirely clear whether the new antenna on the right side of the nose is connected to the visible “cut” part of the nose or not, but the one on the left is clear. @task_force23

It’s not clear from the photos we’ve had from two years ago if this “cut off” nose was on the plane, too.

The N401XP was seen with the abdominal bursa in October 2020. Steve Lee

Beyond a clear connection of some sort to the laser-guided power system, it remains unclear how specifically the abdominal bursa is designed to function. It is possible that the capsule contained a laser itself – although it is not clear where the emitter might go. The possible possibility is that the laser can be directed out of the hole on the right side. The capsule and what was buried in the overhead jet slots could contain an APU used to operate the laser independently. So this would be a configuration where the air intake is at the front, the exhaust is downstream from the rear, and possibly the emitter coming off the side, with the APU buried in the bay above. This would be a remarkably compact and interesting installation, although how to manage the high thermal loads that high-power lasers are associated with is unclear.

Model 401s fly together over Mojave. (vehicles measured)

Then again, we could only see components associated with a three-way transmission system planned to be installed elsewhere on the aircraft as well, such as where the pilot is now in a drone variant (and thus even the more direct Dr. sharks with lasers on their heads’ callback) . The aircraft may not actually carry the laser at all, with the artwork on the capsule being merely an indication that the aircraft was used in some way in support of laser-related research work. Although this seems less likely due to the highly customized install we’re seeing now two years after it debuted. And such a laser could be attached to the sensor, and not a laser weapon for shooting down hostile targets, for example.

The two Scaled Composites Model 401s were first developed to demonstrate several advanced, rapid, and low-cost design and manufacturing techniques as well as serve as a demonstration support aircraft for undisclosed software. They have since been employed for various testing purposes. In this role, the aircraft is regularly reconfigured for various missions, and has often been seen in flight tracking apps working in concert with the company’s experimental high-flying Proteus jet.

According to the Scaled Composites website, “Following the initial expansion of the performance envelope, both aircraft are conducting payload development testing for a wide range of customers.” “The aircraft is capable of integrating a variety of payload systems with more than 80 cubic feet of internal payload volume and up to 2,000 pounds of payload capacity.”

So far, it’s not clear if Northrop Grumman plans to market the Model 401, or variants or derivatives of it, for public sale in any configuration. However, it seems highly likely that this will be the case given that last year the company showed reporters a mockup of a drone version – it’s not clear if this simply reflects the drone’s standard design configuration or a new variant of the drone – as well as An entirely new derivative of the UAV, known as the Model 437. You can read more about these developments here.

Artwork depicting the Model 437’s design, in the center, as well as an unmanned version of the Model 401 in the upper left corner, among other manned and unmanned aircraft. Northrop Grumman / Graduated Vehicles via Steve Trimble / Aviation Week

The 401 has features that can be very useful for using a laser of some kind. Its high-surface wings would provide any such payload installed under the fuselage greater than the field of view from horizon to horizon without the need to bend.

The aircraft’s basic design is good for the ability to hang around a certain area at low speeds for extended periods of time, while also being able to make transits to and from a given point at higher jet speeds. An unmanned configuration would eliminate any mission duration limitations a human pilot might impose, as well as potentially offer other unique capabilities to the overall mix.

There are certainly many laser and laser related development efforts that could fly the N401XP to support this configuration with a lower belly pod. Although encountering obstacles over the years, the USAF, in particular, has a number of active programs focused on developing aircraft-mounted lasers for use as both offensive and defensive weapons.

Artwork depicting an F-16 aircraft with the Self-Protecting High Energy Laser Guided Energy Weapon (SHiELD). Lockheed Martin

Of course, there is as yet no confirmed connection between the N401XP in configuration with the ventral bursa and any of these, or any other Airborne directed energy weapon efforts.

as such war zone In 2020, whatever the purpose of the N401XP-equipped laser system may be, it may also be linked to work on capabilities to protect against these directed energy weapons. Not so long ago, one of the planes of Ibn Ares was seen with a mirror-like coating. Mirror-like finishes have now appeared in many forms in stealthy F-22 Raptors, F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, and F-117A Nighthawks, as well as US Navy F-35Cs—all belonging to these services’ testing and evaluation. Communities – you can also read more about them here.

It is possible that the abdominal bursa visible on the N401XP has something to do with something completely different as well. And yes, this could be a misdirection or even a reference to our previous article, although that seems highly unlikely. However, at least when taken at face value, the etched addition to the underside of the plane is likely to have more to do with the laser now than before.

Over time, the 401 is likely to prove more important to the future of air combat than most had anticipated, and they could even produce production aircraft, laser-equipped or not.

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