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Mystery Drone: Google Maps Image Seems To Show UAV At Lockheed Martin Skunk Works (PHOTO)

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A satellite image of what appears to be an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, at a Lockheed Martin facility has fueled speculation about what the company may be building at its famous Skunk Works plant in Palmdale, Calif.

The object in the image looks like a "flying wing" design similar to Lockheed's RQ-170 Sentinel drone. It was first spotted by George Kaplan, who wrote about it last Thursday on Open Source GEOINT. According to Kaplan, the satellite image, which can be found on Google Maps and Google Earth, was taken in December of 2011.

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Writing for Wired's Danger Room blog, David Axe speculates that the object, which is parked next to an F-16 and looks like it's covered in plastic, could have a 60-foot wingspan.

A representative from Lockheed Martin would say little about the image, responding to an inquiry by The Huffington Post with a two-sentence statement:

"Lockheed Martin Skunk Works often experiments with different shapes and materials for both manned and unmanned vehicles," the statement reads. "What you see in the satellite image is one of those projects."

The Aviationist notes that the drone's shape is similar to the RQ-170, the U.S. Air Force reconnaissance drone that crashed in Iran in December.

Flightglobal adds that this could be a prototype of a P.420, a design that was patented in 1997, but according to Danger Room has never been seen before.

Wired's David Axe has yet another theory about the mystery object, so click over to Danger Room to find out.

Skunk Works, which is also known as Advanced Development Programs (ADP), began during World War II. The U-2 spy plane, SR-71 Blackbird and C-130 Hercules are among the aircraft developed at the Skunk Works facility. The X-35, the prototype of the F-35, was also developed at the California facility, according to Lockheed Martin.

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