Mach 5 Lies: The SR-91 Aurora is a total myth

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The SR-71 Blackbird, which took to the skies in 1964, was for decades the world’s fastest aircraft, setting an official record of 2,193 miles per hour – more than three times the speed of sound , in straight and level flight in 1976. Anecdotal reports by the aircraft’s pilots suggested that this speed was exceeded while the aircraft was in active service, although the details of the surrounding circumstances, of course, are not are not known to the public.

However, the SR-71, revolutionary in the 1960s, was slightly less so in the 1980s, and the US military reportedly sought a design that could supplant it when it retired. The Pentagon has been silent on this process, but outside observers have speculated that, given the technology available to the US Air Force, an aircraft could be created that could travel at hypersonic speeds of up to at Mach 5. In view of this, some observers have argued that such an aircraft was probably already in development. However, it was not until March 1990 that the aircraft magazine Aviation and Space Technology Week announced that $ 455 million had been allocated for the “production of black planes” in 1987. He also announced similar obscure funding in 1985 for a project called “Aurora” – seeming to confirm suspicions.

The document was genuine, and “Aurora” was a real plane, but it wasn’t the plane everyone thought it was. In The skunk works, a 1994 book written by Ben Rich, the former director of the legendary Lockheed Department, indicated that “Aurora” was a code name for the B-2 Spirit, which made its maiden flight in the late 1980s and entered service in 1997.

The rumors, however, ended up diverging in an entirely different direction; they postulated the existence of a strange isosceles triangle-shaped plane that could travel at hypersonic speeds. Rumors of the plane’s existence, based on snippets of radio conversations and alleged sightings in southern California and Nevada, were also closely tied to Area 51, the government’s air test field. at Groom Lake – and the subject of his own conspiracy theories.

But the idea that the government was testing a hypersonic plane was totally wrong. “Although I would expect not many media to believe me,” Rich wrote in 1994, “there is no codename for the hypersonic airplane because it just doesn’t exist.”

In fact, the fate of high-speed spy planes declined sharply after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War marked the end of unlimited defense spending, and the functions these planes had – namely to fly over enemy territory to photograph sensitive areas – could soon be performed, at lower cost and with much less danger. , by spies. satellites.

Trevor Filseth is a current affairs and foreign affairs writer for the National interest.

Image: Reuters


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