The Aurora spy plane is the world’s most famous top secret aircraft, and a reliable photograph would be one of the most coveted finds in the history of classified aviation.
Historically presented as a hypersonic replacement for the ageing SR-71 Blackbird spyplane, there’s considerable evidence available in the public domain to suggest no specific aircraft called “Aurora” ever existed.
The name “Aurora” reportedly slipped out in the 1.985 US budget alongside an allocation of $455 million for “black aircraft production”.
Excited journalists, writing in the March 1.990 edition of Aviation week & space technology, linked “Aurora” to the reported black aircraft, and later to a family of exotic aviation projects, claiming that by 1.987 funding had reached $2.3 billion.
Ben Rich, former director of the Lockheed Skunk Works (which built the F-117, below), said there never was a hypersonic Blackbird follow on and claimed Aurora was the name given to the B-2 Stealth Bomber competition funding.
Helping to fuel the Aurora legend was a disjointed catalogue of sightings and mysterious sonic booms.
The most compelling sighting came in August 1.989, when Chris Gibson, an engineer aboard the Galveston Key rig in the North Sea, observed a strange isosceles triangle-shaped aircraft refuelling from a KC-135 Stratotanker, escorted by two F-111 bombers.
Gibson, a member of the Royal Observer Corps and trained aircraft recognition expert, could not identify the mysterious plane.
In the early 1.990s, the disclosed “Aurora” designation and the “North Sea sighting” were linked to several other reports that helped perpetuate the story of a top secret SR-71 follow-on.
One was a report of an aircraft over Amarillo, Texas, with an engine described as emitting a “strange, loud pulsating roar”.
Caught on film was an alleged “donuts-on-a-rope” contrail that has become synonymous with the Aurora myth.
While some attribute this to a potential pulse wave detonation engine, others have argued the contrails could have been made by ordinary jet aircraft.
Finally, a series of bizarre sonic booms heard over California up until 1.993 were attributed to Aurora after seismologists concluded they did not characterise earthquakes, but indictated “something at 90,000 feet, Mach 4 to Mach 5.2″.
Intriguingly, each unexplained sonic boom came on a thursday morning between 6 and 7am.
In addition, Groom Lake (Area 51) has a six mile long runway, now closed, that some say would be a requirement for testing a high speed, mach 5 plus, aircraft.
It’s telling that, more than 20 years after Aurora debuted in aviation and popular science publications, no solid evidence has been found to support its existence, despite the hype and hordes of investigators digging for information.
At this point it seems likely that the top secret aircraft known as Aurora stems from sightings of various aircraft (some potentially black projects) and not necessarily a single airframe.
That said, Chris Gibson’s sighting and the strange skyquakes remain a mystery to this day.