Aurora aircraft

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Artist concept of a classified Aurora Project experimental plane.

Aurora is the popular name for a hypothesised American reconnaissance aircraft, believed by some to be capable of hypersonic flight at speeds of Mach 5 or greater. The Aurora was developed in the 1980s or 1990s as a replacement for the aging and expensive SR-71 Blackbird. We know about it primarily because a censor's slip let "Aurora" appear below the SR-71 Blackbird and U-2, in the 1985 Pentagon budget request. It was originally funded in 1982. No conclusive evidence supporting the hypothesis of a hypersonic plane has ever reached the public domain.

According to Aviation Week, Aurora refers to a group of exotic aircraft projects, and not to one particular airframe. Funding of the project allegedly reached $2.3 billion in fiscal 1987, according to a 1986 procurement document obtained by Aviation Week. According to an "Exclusive Special Report" published in Military Space in January 1995, "Aurora was canceled by the 'then-DOD boss Cheney' in 1992, after he was informed that Aurora vehicles would cost approximately $1 billion per flight article."

Some of the most likely operational bases for these aircraft include Groom Lake (Area 51) in Nevada, Edwards AFB, California, and RAF Machrihanish, Scotland. Because of the high speeds of the Aurora, it is likely a long runway is required both for takeoff and landing, limiting the number of viable operational bases. Groom Lake's runway is six miles long in total.

Some of the best evidence for the Aurora comes from oilworker and trained aircraft spotter, Chris Gibson. In August 1989, while working as an engineer on a North Sea oil platform, he saw an unfamiliar triangle-shaped vehicle and drew a picture of it. This was followed shortly thereafter by a photograph circulated on the Internet showing such an aircraft being escorted into RAF Machrihanish by two F-111s. The photograph was clearly a fake, but the association with Machrihanish has remained to this day.

Lockheed's Skunk Works, now the Lockheed Advanced Development Company, is almost certainly the prime contractor for the Aurora. Throughout the 1980s, financial analysts concluded that Lockheed had been engaged in several large classified projects, but the known projects could not account for the declared net income.

Additional evidence comes from several unexplained sonic booms that occurred over California (especially Los Angeles) and Nevada in the 1990s, possibly created by Aurora aircraft heading to or from the Groom Lake air base. In 1998, another aircraft spotter videotaped two unusual contrails in quick succession. One of the sights appeared to be a fireball, while the other was described as "doughnuts on a rope." The triangular craft is rumored to have an unconventional propulsion system. Many experts speculate that the vehicle is powered by hydrogen or methane, though methane is the preferred candidate because of its significantly greater density.

In the 1980s and 1990s, NASA and several aerospace companies proposed multiple aircraft designs for hypersonic aircraft that are reminiscent of the aircraft described by Gibson. Some appeared to be based around what was learned from experiments with the XB-70 Valkyrie waverider airplane, which used air compressed by the supersonic shockwave around the aircraft to generate additional lift.

The fuel would likely be cryogenically cooled and stored in liquid form, though it would probably be cycled through the leading edges of the aircraft to provide cooling, since supersonic and hypersonic flight generates a significant amount of heat (this aspect of the plane's operation generally rules out regular liquid jet fuel, which would likely detonate prematurely at the extreme temperatures generated by hypersonic travel). Ultimately, the fuel would probably be fed into a ramjet, scramjet, or pulse detonation engine. Additionally, the strongly-swept (75 degrees in some enthusiast artwork) triangular shape of the airplane would probably make it an ideal high-speed waverider design. As to the feasibility of these concepts, NASA and other groups continue to publicly work on scramjet technology in 2005, but thrust-producing scramjets remain research projects with severe limitations (notably not working at all until a craft reaches supersonic speeds, as well as very low thrust-weight ratios). Pulse detonation engines remain the subject of active research by US aerospace companies, but no prototype has yet flown.

For a time in the 1990s, the Aurora aircraft became a touchstone for every "cool" technology then under development. Soon it was appearing on the cover of various magazines such as Popular Science, and for some time was considered to "obviously exist" because the SR-71 had been retired and they needed something to fill the role. The Testors company produced a model kit based on designs popularized in the press. Other companies also got into the business. Estes Industries made a model rocket kit, and Galoob made a Micro Machines toy version of the theoretical aircraft.

However, a paucity of additional sightings, combined with the widespread understanding that the US is now using low-speed "stealthy" drone aircraft in the reconnaissance role, led some observers to conclude by 1999, that even if the Aurora had existed, it was probably no longer in service.

In the book Skunkworks, Ben Rich the former head of Lockheed's Skunkworks division, claims that the Aurora was simply the budgetary code name for the stealthbomber fly-off that resulted in the B-2.

An Aurora bomber aircraft is present in the computer game "Command & Conquer: Generals".

External links

pl:Aurora (samolot)


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