In 1987, a G.I. Joe sneak attack on a Cobra airbase in an undisclosed location yielded a surprise: a fully intact and fully armed Cobra Night Raven. The capture of the advanced aircraft was quite possibly one of the biggest victories for the anti-terrorist group.
The designer and manufacturer, M.A.R.S., actually imposed a lien on the Raven due to the fact that Cobra had an outstanding debt on the aircraft that was not paid, and wanted the United States Government to return the aircraft to Scotland immediately. The United States refused to comply.
The fully functioning aircraft was flown by for evaluation where it showed excellent performance. Test pilot Slip-Stream commented it accelerated faster than any aircraft he had ever flown and was smooth and stable, even above mach 3. It was decided that some measures would be taken to make the aircraft faster. In its regular load of armament and fuel could attain mach 3.35 in extended flight and mach 3.5 for several minute spans, even faster than the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, on which it is based. A lengthy operation was undertaken that involved stripping the entire airframe of its black stealth paint, all the way down to the raw titanium. The surface was then sanded completely smooth. As titanium is a rust-proof metal, corrosion would never be an issue. The lack of armament and paint made the aircraft lighter and more maneuverable, and as would be discovered several years later: considerably faster.
Flight tests with the unpainted aircraft showed it was superior to all USN and USAF aircraft in the areas of maneuverability and acceleration at supersonic speed only. At subsonic speeds however, it was sluggish and could not keep up with the smaller and more nimble fighters such as the Skystriker XP-14F and Conquest X-30. Evaluation showed that it was especially vulnerable to AIM-9 "sidewinder" IR missiles when at subsonic speed. If caught in a low-speed dogfight, the Raven's best chance at success would be to gun both engines and pull away, which it could easily do. If all else fails, the gunner-operated 20mm cannons were devastatingly effective within a mile.
The aircraft was used on a handful of missions, almost always for strategic reconnaissance, although it is speculated it was used as a supersonic bomber on at least one occasion. The aircraft's true potential was not fully realized until a recon flight of Cobra-occupied Trucial Abysmia in June of 1991. After three surface to air missile launches were detected, Skydive, stricken with fear, accelerated his aircraft continuously until he attained a staggering mach 3.7, which is over 2,800 miles per hour. Despite repeated warnings from his RIO/gunner Drop Zone to slow down, Skydive was nearly in a state of panic and only the intervention of his RIO electronically locking the pilot's controls out and pulling the throttle back saved both them and the aircraft from complete destruction.
- Poor maneuverability.
- Completely unable to dogfight at subsonic speeds.
- Armament for such a large aircraft is poor and many consider the Conquest X-30 to be a more effective bomber when stealth and high speed are not required.
- Much like the Soviet-built MiG-25, the Sky Raven has design flaws which results in a catastrophic engine failure if Mach 3.5 is held for more than 3 min., resulting in the aircraft accelerating out of control, causing the turbines to literally implode on themselves.
- The Sky Raven is predictably expensive to buy and almost as expensive to maintain and operate.
- The Sky Raven is based on the Lockheed A-12, Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, Lockheed YF-12, and the fictional MiG-31 Firefox (Firefox, Firefox Down, Clint Eastwood, Craig Thomas).