Forgotten spy plane photos catch top secret tests of unmanned craft

'Compass Dwell' Martin Marietta's last aircraft

Rare photos of a U.S. Air Force-backed, unmanned spy aircraft obtained by News 6 have been identified by the founder and archivist of the Glenn L. Martin Museum in Baltimore as Project 845-A code name: Compass Dwell.

Stan Piet told News 6 the plane developed in 1971 was most likely built to intercept radio communications in North Vietnam.

“I suspect what this aircraft was designed to do was sit up there for hours and hours,  and listen, waiting for some type of communication that they could isolate and try to interdict it and take it out,” Piet told News 6 in a Skype interview Tuesday.

Documents found in the binders packed with artist renderings, design sketches and color photos of the unmanned craft’s test flights, indicate the first flight of the “Remotely Piloted Vehicle” was completed at Friendship Airport.

The news release, dated Feb. 25, 1971, reports the craft was flown by remote control from Middle River, Maryland “and flew to the Martin Facility in Denver, Colorado.”

The material, owned by George Hampton, an engineer with Martin Marietta, was discovered in the trash outside of his Ocala home.

Hampton passed away earlier this year and his home was on the market for sale.

A Navy veteran discovered the material, which included a list of employees with secret and top secret status.

Documents obtained by News 6 show Hampton was an important part of engineering research with Martin Marietta credited for work on the U.S. space program as well as various aircraft projects.

The documents show “Compass Dwell” had a wingspan of 59.1 feet; it was 9.5 feet high and 25.4 feet long.

Piet admits he doesn’t know why the project was scrapped but that the material has priceless historical value.

“This is the biggest cache of material on this project that we’ve ever seen, the company didn’t save anything on this because it was a lost project so boom it went,” Piet said.

For additional information on this project and more go to mdairmuseum.org.

About the Author: