Reports of plans for a high-performance piloted replacement for the SR-71 date back more than a decade. In 1979 it was reported that a:<41>
"... Mach 4, 200,000-ft.-altitude aircraft that could be a follow-on to the Lockheed SR-71 strategic reconnaissance vehicle in the 1990s has been defined by the Air Force Aeronautical Systems Division and Lockheed."
As previously noted, reports of the existence of a successor to the SR-71 surfaced repeatedly during the debate over termination of the SR-71. Subsequent observations of mysterious aerial phenomena have been connected with the 1988 reports that Aurora was a Mach 6 stealthy reconnaissance aircraft that was being developed to replace the SR-71.<42>
Noted aerospace analyst Wolfgang Demisch, of First Boston Company, suggested that the $10 billion program would result in the production of about 30 aircraft.<43> More recently, Kemper Security analyst Lawrence Harris concluded that Lockheed was involved in a:<44>
"... hypersonic replacement for the Mach 3 plus SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft. Circumstantial evidence suggests that this project has been underway since 1987 and that a first flight occurred in 1989... Aurora could be operational in 1995, six years after the probable first flight."
This analysis suggested that the total development costs for Aurora might range from $4.4 billion to $8 billion, with the procurement of 24 aircraft costing an additional $10 billion to $24 billion.
According to another report, by mid-1992:<45>
"... Aurora was being flown from a base in the Nevada desert to an atoll in the Pacific, then on to Scotland to refuel before returning to the US at night. Specially modified tanker aircraft are being used to top up Aurora's tanks with liquid methane fuel in mid-air... The US Air Force is using the remote RAF airbase at Machrihanish, Strathclyde, as a staging point... The mystery aircraft has been dropping in at night before streaking back to America across the North Pole at more than six times the speed of sound... An F-111 fighter bomber is scrambling as the black-painted aircraft lands, flying in close formation to confuse prying civilian radars."
The rationale used most frequently by the Department of Defense for the SR-71's termination was financial. The Blackbird's operation and maintenance costs were very high. According to some reports, the SR-71's O&M costs were nearly $710- million in FY-90 and FY-91.<46> Furthermore, they argued, imaging satellites could now conduct worldwide surveillance more efficiently and less expensively than manned reconnaissance aircraft.
Independent aerospace analysts, however, deflated this argument somewhat by pointing to the unique advantages aircraft bring to the reconnaissance arena. Aircraft, for example, are inherently flexible and unpredictable. Though not as fast as satellites, they can fly lower and the interval between over the horizon arrival and time-over-target is just as short. Aircraft have a wide choice of routes, so tracking ships are unlikely to see it on the way in. Application of low observable technology could further reduce warning time.<47> Thus, it appears plausible that aircraft may still have a role in global reconnaissance.
Another analyst has considered the possibilities of "Aurora's" characteristics and capabilities. A long-range reconnaissance follow-on to the SR-71 would be a blended delta with 75 degree leading-edge sweep and retractable low-speed foreplanes. It would be powered by two regenerative air-turboramjet (RATR) engines of 180 kN sea-level static thrust. It would carry a crew of two and use a synthetic aperture radar with real-time datalink for reconnaissance (Figure 4). It is suggested that this type of platform could be very responsive, much more easily maintainable than the SR-71 and could deliver imagery of most points of interest within six hours of the decision to go. A speed between Mach 5 and Mach 6 and a cruising altitude of 40 kilometers would make the aircraft invulnerable to any current missile system.<48> The Public Record
Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Air Force and NASA have supported a number of studies of aircraft that are consistent with accounts of the Aurora project. Although these studies have not been linked to actual development efforts, they provide some insight into the potential configuration and capabilities of Aurora.
In 1985 McDonnell Douglas conducted studies of a Mach 5, 12,000 km range 305 passenger HSCT (hypersonic commercial transport) powered by regenerative ATR (air turboramjet) engines. Initial research led to claims that this type of aircraft was not only feasible, but remarkably efficient. According to these studies, a ramjet was the best option at Mach 5, and that methane was the preferred fuel. Hydrogen was also considered, but it takes up to five times as much space. If the large HSCT was scaled down to the dimensions of an SR-71, the aircraft could have a range of approximately 10,000 miles with a crew of two and a 1 ton sensor suite.<49>
Lockheed's renowned Skunk Works has been the incubator of several programs that could evolve, or could already have evolved, into an SR-71 replacement. Presently, Lockheed engineers are reportedly studying the development of a liquid methane- fueled aircraft that could penetrate enemy airspace in order to perform reconnaissance missions.<50>
"The sleek aircraft would cruise at Mach 5 (3,350 mph) speed at a maximum altitude of about 100,000 feet. The aircraft would be made primarily of titanium with its outer edges constructed of Inconel, a heat-resistant stainless steel. At Mach 5 speed the leading edges of the air-frame would glow red above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Power for this futuristic airplane would come from four turbo-ramjets. The engines would operate as turbojets at low speeds, but at higher speeds the compressor and turbine would be overridden so the engines would operate as ramjets."
Other aircraft designs that would fly between Mach 4 and Mach 8, fueled by hydrocarbon or liquid hydrogen are also being considered.<51> And in the mid-1980s, Lockheed proposed a Mach 7-8 "transatmospheric vehicle" or TAV as an SR-71 replacement. Intriguingly enough, the name "Aurora" was also used in conjunction with this proposal.<52> TABLE 1 >Aurora Advanced Aircraft Characteristics
Source Lockheed Sweetman Lockheed Boeing Boeing Date 1985 1990 1990 1990 1990
Performance: Cruise - Mach 5 5-6 5 5.5 6 Ceiling - km 30 40 27 32 33 Range - km ? 17,000 1,900 5,000 27,750
MCH = methylcyclohexane LH2 = liquid hydrogen
FIGURE 2 <57>
FIGURE 3 <58>
FIGURE 4 <59>
FIGURE 5 <60>
In 1986, the Directorate for R&D Contracting, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, issued an RFP for aircraft propulsion integration technology. The<61>
"... purpose of the proposed investigation is to develop an improved foundation for manned aircraft air-breathing propulsion integration technology in the Mach 4 to 6 regime."
Under an Air Force contract, Boeing Military Airplane Co. designed an interceptor capable of sustaining supersonic speeds. It was reported that wind tunnel tests would be conducted under a 26 month $572,000 follow-on contract.<62> This effort also included detailed studies of aircraft subsystems.<63> Similar studies were conducted by Lockheed<64> and General Dynamics.<65>
Keeping an aircraft sufficiently cool during extreme speeds is a primary challenge of hypersonic flight. According to studies done by General Dynamics and Boeing, an aircraft travelling at between Mach 5.5 and Mach 6 would have an average skin temperature of approximately 1100-1300 degrees Fahrenheit.<66> One potential solution incorporated in the Air Force studies, also being explored by researchers at NASA's Langley Research Center and Wright-Patterson Air Force base,<67> is the use of Methylcyclohexane (MCH) as both the fuel and the thermal management medium of the vehicle.
MCH has several advantages over other possible hydrocarbon or cryogenic fuels. Unlike standard hydrocarbon fuels, MCH has a very high capacity to absorb heat prior to combustion, up to 1800 Btu per pound of fuel, which is ten times the capacity of most hydrocarbon fuels.<68> Cryogenic Methane and Hydrogen have high heat absorbtion capacities as well, but their use as an aviation fuel is limited by the logistical difficulties of handling, storage and fuel boil off.<69>
The principle behind MCH thermal management is based on a catalytic reaction transforming MCH into Toluene and Hydrogen, which are then used to fuel the aircraft:<70>
A fuel pump pressurizes the fuel to... avoid boiling. The preheater heats the fuel to the proper reaction temperature while removing heat from a secondary coolant...After preheating, the fuel passes through the catalytic heat exchanger/ reactor...
The secondary coolant, Syltherm, circulates to the hot spots to maintain skin temperatures to within specified tolerances.<71>
One aerospace journal says that an aircraft travelling at Mach 6 would be inside the combustion envelope of a subsonic-combustion ramjet. It suggests that the aircraft would thus need an accelerator to get it moving. One type of accelerator would be a ducted-rocket cycle into the engine. A fuel-rich, liquid rocket exhaust would be injected into a ramjet duct, pumping air through it even at rest. A second combustion then takes place, using atmospheric oxygen.<72> (This second combustion could produce the loud rumbling noises heard recently in California, discussed below). Budget and Financial Data
The first suggestion that these studies might be translated into operational hardware appeared in the Fiscal Year 1986 procurement program document, colloquially known as the P-1, dated 4 February 1985. A line item in this document, labeled "Aurora," was slated to receive $80 million in 1986, and over $2.2 billion in 1987.<73> Since this line item appeared next to the line funding the TR-1 reconnaissance aircraft, it stirred up a hornet's nest of conjecture that a secret aircraft was being developed to replace the aging SR-71.
The Air Force quickly denied the existence of a secret program, and said the "Aurora" budget line was simply one site for B-2 bomber funds when that program was highly classified.<74> One Air Force official commented, "I wish I could say it is (an SR-71 follow-on), because we'd love to have it. But it's just accounting, I'm afraid."<75>
Others disagreed. One journal reported that "the general consensus now is that the item did not refer to the B-2 bomber but to another effort."<76> Other analysts placed the SR-71 follow-on at both Edwards Air Force Base and Nellis Air Range.<77>
Other publications saw a more complicated, more expansive black world. These periodicals posited that Aurora was one of several code names "nested within other code names, all referring to a class of aircraft designed for multiple missions."<78>
However, the discussions of the Aurora budget line item overlook one very crucial fact: No money was ever appropriated for Aurora!
In the February 1985 submission of the FY 1986 budget, the Aurora line item projected a request of over $2 billion in the FY 1987 budget. But one year later, when the FY 1987 budget was submitted, the Aurora line item had vanished as mysteriously as it had first appeared. Indeed, FY 1987 request for the overall Air Force aircraft procurement account was several billion dollars less than had be projected in 1985, and there were no line items in the FY 1987 request that could have been used to conceal a request for funding for Aurora.
Much of the subsequent speculation on Aurora has implicitly assumed that there was an identifiable source of funding for the program. Although this is not obviously the case, there nonetheless remains one tantalizing, and previously unremarked, hint that the Aurora program was in fact funded, though at a significantly reduced scale.
As previously noted, the case for the existence of all mystery aircraft, including Aurora, must be predicated on identifiable sources of funding. Thus the proper identification of the programmatic content of the major elements of the black budget is essential to assessing the status of mystery aircraft, such as Aurora. A not-implausible accounting has already been given that suggests an identifiable source of funding that may be attributed to the TR-3A stealth aircraft program. But where in the budget might other aircraft programs be funded?
Some have assumed that the funding for the CIA and NRO is entirely hidden from view -- completely off-budget, or widely dispersed among a large number of accounts in many government agencies, or disguised in some obscure accounting transaction of the Federal Financing Bank, or perhaps secreted somewhere among the subsidy programs of the Agriculture Department. Under such assumptions, the billions of dollars appropriated each year for such programs as "Selected Activities" or "Special Programs" would provide more than enough money to finance a vast fleet of exotic aircraft.
But a more detailed consideration of the classified budget provides little basis for believing that these line items might provide funding for such purposes.
While the structure of the classified budget is obscure, it is not perverse. Line items in the budget may be given opaque names, like Selected Activities, which obscure their programmatic content, but there are no activities that are not included in some budget item, however obscurely. There are no off-budget programs. Other line items, such as "Special Programs" (the nomenclature used for the National Reconnaissance Office) may omit the value of the budget. But in such cases, a fair approximation of the omitted value may be obtained by subtracting the sum of those lines for which values are given from the total provided for the budget category which includes the omitted values. It may also be fairly assumed that the multitudinous Navy classified budget items, such as Chalk Coral and Retract Amber, are funding only Navy projects, rather than Air Force programs. And it may also be assumed that Aircraft Procurement accounts fund only aircraft, and that Missile Procurement accounts fund only missiles or space vehicles, though the more generic Other Procurement accounts clearly fund a wide range of programs.
The Other Procurement Air Force account includes a line item opaquely labeled "Selected Activities," which typically accounts for about half of the total budget of this account. Analysis of the outlay rates for this and other budget accounts reveals an interesting anomaly. Procurement accounts, which fund the purchase of hardware, typically spend about 5% to 15% of their appropriation in the first year, with outlays rising to 20% to 40% in the second and third years, and declining thereafter. This reflects the contracting process, in which several years are required to complete manufacture of hardware. In contrast, personnel and operations and maintenance accounts, which are largely for payroll and supplies, typically have first year outlay rates of 50% to 80%.
Uniquely, the Other Procurement Air Force account has a first year outlay rate that has ranged from over 40% to nearly 60%. The only possible explanation for this anomaly is that the "Selected Activities" half of the Other Procurement Air Force account is in fact not a procurement activity, with a low first-year outlay rate, but rather funds personnel and operating expenses, with their characteristic high first-year outlay rate. Table 2 Classified Aircraft Budget
AIRCRAFT OTHER PROCUREMENT PROCUREMENT Aurora Special Update Program FY86 FY86
Millions of Dollars Numbers in parentheses are FY86 projections All others are actual appropriations
In recent years, the budget for the "Selected Activities" line item has been somewhat in excess of $5 billion annually. This value is consistent with the roughly $3 billion that is the reported budget of the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as the personnel and operations and maintenance budget of the National Reconnaissance Office. There is no reason to doubt this conclusion.
However, the next line down from "Selected Activities" in the Other Procurement Air Force account is an item dubbed, "Special Update Program." This proximity in the budget is suggestive of some relationship in mission as well. It is plausible that this line item includes procurement of intelligence collection systems of interest to the CIA or Air Force, other than satellites, which are funded elsewhere in the budget. Funding for this line item peaked at over $900 million in 1985, then dropped to $84 million in 1986. This suggests that whatever activity was funded under this account in the early 1980s had been concluded. The same FY 1986 procurement program document, that included the $2.2 billion funding projection for Aurora in FY 1987 also projected that the FY 1987 funding for Special Update Program would be $139 million.<79>
But when the actual FY 1987 budget was submitted a year later, not only had Aurora disappeared, but the Special Update Program budget request was $851 million, over $700 million more than had been projected a year earlier.
It is not implausible that this reflected a decision not to proceed with production of an operational system which would have been funded under the Aurora line item, but instead to conduct some sort of prototype propulsion test program, funded under the Special Update Program line. The $1.5 billion appropriated for this account since 1987 would be consistent with such a prototype effort.
Although this analysis is necessarily speculative, the coincidental behavior of these two budget line items is certainly highly suggestive. This also identifies a not- implausible source of funding for an experimental high-speed, high-altitude aircraft with primarily intelligence applications. Observer Reports
A wide range of reports of observations of mysterious aerial phenomena have been associated with the Aurora aircraft. These observations are also in many regards consistent with the suggested Exotic Propulsion Aircraft. Those reports relating to both possibilities are discussed here, while those reports unique to the Exotic Propulsion Aircraft are discussed subsequently. These unexplained phenomena have led some to conclude that:<80>
"...the US Government has secretly developed and deployed a hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft, probably as a replacement for the SR-71."
There are two classes of reports relating to Aurora: those that are consistent with a limited experimental test program; and those that are suggestive of the existence of an operational capability.
Edwards Air Force Base in southern California is the primary facility used by the American military for the flight testing of experimental aircraft. In addition, the Groom Lake facility at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada was used for developmental testing of the F-117A, and has been associated with reports of other advanced aircraft. Given this geographical concentration, it would not be surprising if secret aircraft undergoing flight tests were to be observed in the Southwestern United States.
In October 1990 Aviation Week & Space Technology published reports of:<81>
"A high altitude aircraft that crosses the night sky at extremely high speed.... The vehicle typically is observed as a single, bright light -- sometimes pulsating -- flying at speeds far exceeding other aircraft in the area, and at altitudes estimated to be above 50,000 ft.... Normally, no engine noise or sonic boom is heard."
More recently, a sighting by two British Airways pilots and other witnesses at Manchester Airport on January 6 1995 has been attributed to the Aurora aircraft.
Probably the most compelling evidence for such flight tests are the series of unusual sonic booms chronicled above Southern California, beginning in mid to late 1991. On at least five occasions, these sonic booms were recorded by at least 25 of the 220 US Geological Survey sensors across Southern California used to pinpoint earthquake epicenters. The incidents were recorded in June, October, November, and late January 1991.<82> Seismologists estimate that the aircraft were flying at speeds between Mach 3 and 4 and at altitudes of 8 to 10 kilometers. The aircraft's flight path was in a North North-East direction, consistent with flight paths to secret test ranges in Nevada. Seismologists say that the sonic booms were characteristic of a smaller vehicle than the 37 meter long shuttle orbiter. Furthermore, neither the shuttle nor NASA's single SR-71B were operating on the days the booms were registered.<83>
One of the seismologists, Jim Mori, noted:<84>
"We can't tell anything about the vehicle. They seem stronger than other sonic booms that we record once in a while. They've all come on Thursday mornings about the same time, between 6 and 7 in the morning."
These "skyquake" are a continuing phenomenon, with the most recent report over Orange County, CA coming on 20 July 1996. It is reported that the "quake" occurred around 3pm PST, fitting the "skyquake" pattern in the following respects:
It occurred in a coastal area. Described as similar to an earthquake in some respects (rattling of loose objects, etc) but also like a boom (but no distinct double bang as far as is known). Severe enough to light up government and media switchboards, but no known damage. Not an earthquake (CalTech sensors saw nothing) Local military bases deny any knowledge. No known other source (eg explosion)
Intercepted radio transmissions are equally intriguing:<85>
"On Apr. 5 (a Sunday) and Apr. 22, radio hobbyists in Southern California monitored transmissions between Edwards AFB's radar control facility (Joshua Control) and a high-altitude aircraft using the call sign "Gaspipe." The series of radio calls occurred at approximately 6 a.m. local time on both dates.
"Controllers were directing the unknown Gaspipe aircraft to a runway at Edwards, using advisories similar to those given space shuttle crews during a landing approach. The monitors recorded two advisories, both transmitted by Joshua Control to Gaspipe: "You're at 67,000, 81 mi. out," and "Seventy mi. out, 36,000. Above glide slope."
Reported sightings of unusual high performance aircraft are not confined to the Southwestern United States. More recently, such observations have also been reported in other parts of the United States, as well as in Europe. These reports are particularly intriguing because they are difficult to reconcile with an experimental test program, since there would be no reason for test flights to be conducted in Europe. Rather, these reports would have to be understood in the context of the deployment of an operational aircraft.
One unexplained set of observations was reported at Beale Air Force Base, the California facility that was long home to the SR-71. On two consecutive nights in late February 1992, observers reported sighting a triangular aircraft displaying a distinctive diamond-shaped lighting pattern, comprised of a red light near the nose -- similar to the F-117 configuration -- two 'whitish' lights near what would be conventional wingtips and an amber light near the tail.<86> While the wing lights are reportedly much brighter than normal navigation lamps, they do not illuminate the aircraft's planform. Observers claim the vehicle's wing lights are approximately twice as far apart as those on the F-117, and nose-to-tail light spacing is about 50 percent longer than that on the stealth fighter.<87>
Reports of "unusually loud, rumbling sonic booms" near Pensacola, Florida in November 1991 have also been associated with the Aurora program.<88> At least 30 unexplained sonic booms have been reported in Southern California in late 1991 and early 1992.<89> By mid-1992 noted aviation observer Bill Sweetman concluded that, "The frequency of the sonic booms indicates that whatever is making them is now an operational aircraft."<90>
In early 1992 it was reported that:<91>
"... RAF radars have acquired the hypersonic target travelling at speeds ranging from about Mach 6 to Mach 3 over a NATO-RAF base at Machrihanish, Scotland, near the tip of the Kintyre peninsula, last November and again this past January."
aurora_fake.jpg - 10.1 K
It was recently reported than on 27 September 1995 David Morris of Walsall, Cornwall UK took a picture of a triangular shaped plane being refueled by a KC-135, and flanked by a pair of F-111s. The unknown aircraft appeared to be about three-quarters the size of the KC-135. This picture has been widely distributed. However, the "refuelling" picture is a hoax -- it was montaged by Bill Rose for the October 1995 issue of Astronomy Now (UK) magazine. There, it is captioned "A simulation of the refuelling of the top secret 'Aurora'. Photo composition by Bill Rose."<92a> Interpretation
In 1990, it was suggested that the Aurora (also reportedly designated "Senior Citizen") had been intended to be the SR-71's successor, but it had been canceled along with the "Blackbird" in 1989.<92> One report suggested that:<93>
"Congress, in addition to killing the SR-71 late last year , voted to terminate a $100 million "related classified activity" that may have been the follow-on effort."
According to the Senate Armed Services Committee, in 1989:<94>
"... the Congress directed the Department [of Defense] to develop a viable long-term roadmap for airborne reconnaissance. The Department has not done that and will not have that roadmap available until next year. Even then, the Department has proposed to initiate an extraordinarily expensive effort to reproduce the capabilities inherent in the SR-71. The committee cannot endorse that request..."
Representative Robert Livingston (R-LA) noted during a January 1990 House Appropriations Committee hearing that:<95>
"The possible follow-ons (to the SR-71), which again we can't even talk about, even if we were going ahead with them, wouldn't be available for many years, six or seven years, and we are not going ahead with them."
Addressing the prospects for an SR-71 follow-on, Air Force Chief of Staff Lawrence Welch noted that:<96>
"There are a couple of programs... Frankly, we have not found them too promising."
These official pronouncements are difficult to reconcile with other forms of evidence suggesting the existence of an SR-71 follow-on.
Byron Salisbury has built an aircraft model of a conceptual design based on eye witness sightings and information from highly reputable sources. He believes the model to be 95%+ accurate of the "aurora" plane sighted in the North Sea and South Eastern and South Western United States. The model kit is made entirely of white plastic resin and is easy to assemble. The measurements are 12" long x 9" wing span x 2" high. The cost per model is $75.00 plus $15.00 shipping and handling. If you would like to place an order or have any questions he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail mail at B.M. Salisbury, 4620 E. Michigan Street #103, Orlando, Fl. 32812.
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`anmari has been spreading her infectious positivity throughout our community for over 6 years. Throughout this time Ana has been at the core of all things devious, passionately developing an eclectic gallery, helping organise devmeets, participating in chat events and also recently completed dedicating her time as a Community Volunteer. We are absolutely delighted to bestow the Deviousness Award for May 2013 to `anmari, congratulations! Read More