The X-44 MANTA, which stands for Multi-Axis No Tail Aircraft, was a futuristic-looking derivative of Lockheed Martin’s iconic F-22 design. According to Air Force Magazine, Lockheed Martin may have designed up to six different airframes similar to the F-22 Raptor that were offered to the Air Force. Though none of them were picked up, this particular design is said to have drawn the interest of NASA as a research platform with which to test controlling tailless designs using thrust vectoring. Meet the X-44 MANTA.
Like the F-22 on which the X-44 was based on, it would have been highly stealthy and may have even been stealthier than its F-22 parent. Renderings of the X-44 concept indicate that it would have carried over the F-22’s air intake inlets that are designed to diffuse enemy radar inside of them rather than reflecting radar outwards.
Like the iconic B-2 stealth bomber, the X-44 design was tailless. Sans tail, these tailless designs are inherently stealthier than other tailed airframes—the X-44 would have had a very low radar signature. Instead of using standard control surfaces to maneuver while in flight, the MANTA maneuvered using thrust vectoring, in which the dual engine’s exhaust nozzles could direct exhaust in various directions.
Though innovative, thrust vectoring designs are nothing new. One successful Russian design in service with the Indian Air Force, a variant of the Sukhoi Su-30, benefits from very high maneuverability thanks to its thrust vectoring engine nozzles.