Key Point: Not just aircraft make this list.
Stealth, or the idea of reducing the ability of the enemy to detect a weapon, has been around since the first caveman sewed a pocket into his clothing and hid a rock in it.
Thousands of years later, with the ability to detect objects on the ground, in the air and at sea using electromagnetic radiation, hiding weapons in plain sight has become much harder. The idea of making an aircraft invisible to radar waves was not pursued as the properties of radar with regards to object shape were not fully understood.
Pyotr Ufimtsev, a Russian physicist, published a number of papers on predicting the reflection of electromagnetic waves—radar waves. The Soviet Union, not understanding the gravity of his work, translated many of them into English.
But aerospace engineers at Lockheed did, and extrapolated from it a correct theory on reducing the radar cross section of aircraft. The result was the Lockheed F-117A Nighthawk stealth “fighter.” Since then, stealth has been an integral part of every tactical aircraft deployed by the United States. Here are five of the most lethal stealth weapons of war.
Famous for being the fastest plane ever built, the SR-71 is less well known for being a stealthy aircraft. The SR-71, which cruised at Mach 3.2, was one of the first aircraft to incorporate multiple stealth features into its design.
First flown in 1962, the SR-71 incorporated four stealthy features into its design. First, surfaces were designed to avoid reflecting radar waves. Second, the aircraft’s wings, tail and fuselage made use of composites, alternating with titanium, on the idea that composites were radar-absorbing. Third, the massive J-58 afterburning engines, with their large air-gulping inlets were positioned close to the fuselage of the airplane.