Metallic Coating-Clad ARES Experimental Jet Flies Alongside Its Successors In Mysterious Tests
The experimental Ares testbed jet has joined the ‘Son Of Ares’ jets in ongoing test work over the Mojave Desert.
Scaled Composites' exotic little ARES jet, which started out life as an experimental close air support platform three decades ago and has been used as a highly adaptable test platform ever since, is now flying alongside its namesake successors, the mysterious Model 401 'Son of Ares' jets. You can read all about the Model 401s and their progenitor, and how they are linked together, in these past War Zone exclusives.
In addition, ARES has appeared wearing a reflective metallic-like surface coating during its most recent test flights over the Mojave Desert. This fits with prior tests of the Model 401s, which has seen them adorned with other reflective coatings. One of the jets was even covered nearly entirely in a mirror treatment.
The images in this article were taken last week near the Mojave Air and Space Port, where Scaled Composites is based. The ARES jet is seen with a number of other smaller modifications beyond its metallic coating, including a number of antennas on its lower fuselage, one vertical antenna atop its nose, and what appears to be a Radio Direction Finder (RDF) "football" style antenna on its spine—at least it looks similar to those antennas of yesteryear. That antenna does appear to have a strange 'barcode' like scheme. It is unclear exactly why it would be treated that way or what its actual function is.
Scaled Composites' high-flying Proteus testbed platform has also been quite active as of late. This aircraft was directly involved with similar flight tests of the Model 401s earlier in the year and it has been carrying a large pod that appears to have some sort of electro-optical system installed. You can read about these past test flights here.
Above all else, the appearance of ARES with a metallic test coating is more evidence that these aircraft, which now includes the entire 'Ares' family, as well as Proteus, are involved with some ongoing coatings testing related to aircraft signatures against a sensor system or systems. We have also seen F-15s carrying infrared spectrum data-collection test pods involved with this work. We recently profiled these pods in this article.
Whether this has to do with ongoing work on infrared search and track systems and the reflectivity of various aerial targets under different conditions, or something else, such as more general signature testing or something to do with trialing a more advanced sensor system, remains unclear. Some sort of low-power laser testing is also possible. But it is notable just how much of Scaled Composites' flying force has been dedicated to these trials over the last year. As such, it seems somewhat unlikely that this is a private endeavor. One of the Model 401s has even been flying out of Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake for months now. One of the two twin stealthy jets was recently spotted packing its own highly curious-looking pod system, as well.
Defense-related flight testing over the deserts of America's southwest has been off the charts as of late. But Scaled Composites testbed jets have been especially hard at work. Hopefully, once these trials wrap up, we will get a clearer picture as to just what kind of technological breakthroughs these little alien-looking aircraft have been a part of. We may even finally find out who the customer for the Model 401s actually is.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com