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Thread: Beyond the SR-71

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    Registered User BJC's Avatar
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    Beyond the SR-71

    Some people are adamant that there is a really fast, perhaps hypersonic, spy plane. It seems that it has been named Aurora.

    There have been photos of the X-37B, a space plane somewhat akin to a scaled down shuttle, but not much factual information about its mission.

    What do you think? Is there an Auroa? Is it operational? What is the mission of the X-37B?


    BJC

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    IMHO, they would not have "spilled the beans" on the SR-71 until they already had a replacement. As for what that is, I have no idea.

    Remember that for many years the SR-71 " didn't exist", and then suddenly there it was.
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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    Quote Originally Posted by Aerowerx View Post
    IMHO, they would not have "spilled the beans" on the SR-71 until they already had a replacement. As for what that is, I have no idea.

    Remember that for many years the SR-71 " didn't exist", and then suddenly there it was.
    I totally agree although rumor has it that the SR-71 still has a few beans left to spill in regards to it's top speed.

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    If you're willing to believe the more trustworthy sources - Aviation Week and so on - then yes, there have at least been several high-speed demonstrator aircraft for the same mission as the SR-71. One, the vehicle that left the distinctive "donuts on a rope" contrail under certain circumstances, seems to at least have been deployed to the UK for operational testing and assessment, since the distinctive contrail was seen and photographed there a few times. Another type, the one that kept tripping California's coastal seismic sensors with sonic-booms coming in from the Pacific while it was on approach, seems to have seen some very extensive testing, probably from Edwards AFB, which is unusual for "really black" aircraft.

    However, even the infrequent sightings and signs of all of these aircraft seem to have faded away in the early 1990's, and only lasted a few years at best. It seems likely that none of them really progressed to full operational status. At best, I think "Aurora" was simply an umbrella program covering all these separate demonstrator aircraft. I've yet to see any credible evidence for a single aircraft program being developed under that code-name.

    Why? Because the digital cameras on spy satellites are now almost as good as the old film "birds", and there are now unmanned aircraft, highly stealthy but subsonic, doing these missions. Ostensibly "secret", but like the A-12/SR-71 just a few years after it began operational missions, word has leaked out. The RQ-180 seems to have taken over the SR-71's role, and apparently it's stealthy enough that extremely high speed is no longer worth the limited additional protection it can provide.

    The X-37B is orbital, more of an unmanned space shuttle than equivalent to the SR-71. As such, it's no better than the existing spy satellites and, indeed, can't carry as big a telescope. Its angular resolution isn't going to be as good, if it carries a camera. Exactly WHAT it's doing up there on its year-or-so-long missions is really a mystery. ELINT maybe? It could also carry a big enough telescope to examine other satellites closely, although that would be a heck of a pointing challenge. It may simply be testing sensors destined for other platforms, giving the developers a chance to test their systems in actual space before the DoD invests in a dedicated platform for them. Nobody outside the DoD really seems to know.
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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    Quote Originally Posted by BJC View Post
    Some people are adamant that there is a really fast, perhaps hypersonic, spy plane. It seems that it has been named Aurora.

    There have been photos of the X-37B, a space plane somewhat akin to a scaled down shuttle, but not much factual information about its mission.

    What do you think? Is there an Auroa? Is it operational? What is the mission of the X-37B?


    BJC
    I spent time once upon a time trying to find out what I could about Aurora. I never found anything concrete. However, I did find an opinion piece by an ex editor of AWST (IIRC) who had spent a substantial amount of effort trying to track the thing down. His summary was that he believed Lockheed built something that was either a direct to orbit vehicle or something that used a supersonic platform to launch a smaller ship to orbit. The reports of hypersonic booms, and boom tracks were probably the only physical evidence. According to the article, this was the general consensus in the "black" community, although nobody could comment specifically about Aurora.

    For whatever reason, it may have only flown a handful of times. I imagine slower, stealthier platforms are the ticket these days. Far less expensive (so you can have them stashed in multiple bases around the world) and able to collect information from much closer than orbit or near orbit, meaning better data. That seems like a better plan than a high tech silver bullet which can only be in one place at a time, and if there is a glitch, you have little or no backup capability.

    Someone out there knows something, and I suspect a few of those folks probably follow this forum, even if they weren't involved in the program.

    And I still don't understand the why behind the X-37B...

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    The drones have taken up the work.
    Especially UAVs like Preditor.
    Able to loiter for ages, undetected, with real time video and IR.

    Once they were armed (with Hellfire missiles!) the whole game changed.

    They are now the eyes on the scent - and the big stick to boot.

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    I recall many years ago, watching the LA early evening news - giving a report of a track of two aircraft picked up by seismic sensors, but the trail led directly into Groom Lake. "More at 5:00PM" had me hanging around for the update, only to be disappointed when nothing further was broadcast.

    On another occasion, I sat down with an engineer who worked at Lockheed's Skunk Works. These guys are coached as he answered my questions in the same manner as Daryl Greenameyer when we talked about his time as test pilot for the YA-12/SR-71 program. If you're artful in your path, you can develop some interesting information.

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    Quote Originally Posted by Marc Bourget View Post
    I recall many years ago, watching the LA early evening news - giving a report of a track of two aircraft picked up by seismic sensors, but the trail led directly into Groom Lake. "More at 5:00PM" had me hanging around for the update, only to be disappointed when nothing further was broadcast.

    On another occasion, I sat down with an engineer who worked at Lockheed's Skunk Works. These guys are coached as he answered my questions in the same manner as Daryl Greenameyer when we talked about his time as test pilot for the YA-12/SR-71 program. If you're artful in your path, you can develop some interesting information.
    Spill it, or do we have to send someone with cleco pliars and a center punch to work you over?

    ;-)

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    Quote Originally Posted by BJC View Post
    Some people are adamant that there is a really fast, perhaps hypersonic, spy plane. It seems that it has been named Aurora.

    There have been photos of the X-37B, a space plane somewhat akin to a scaled down shuttle, but not much factual information about its mission.

    What do you think? Is there an Auroa? Is it operational? What is the mission of the X-37B?


    BJC
    Personally, I don't think there is one, mostly as a) satellites and b) the places where real-time photo recon is needed have roughly no air defense capability. Except for romantics, a group that does not tend to be well-represented in field and flag grade positions, the important thing is acquiring the data, not that there's a sexy platform to do it.

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyle Boatright View Post
    I spent time once upon a time trying to find out what I could about Aurora. I never found anything concrete. However, I did find an opinion piece by an ex editor of AWST (IIRC) who had spent a substantial amount of effort trying to track the thing down. His summary was that he believed Lockheed built something that was either a direct to orbit vehicle or something that used a supersonic platform to launch a smaller ship to orbit. The reports of hypersonic booms, and boom tracks were probably the only physical evidence. According to the article, this was the general consensus in the "black" community, although nobody could comment specifically about Aurora.
    Friend of mine was interviewing for an in-company transfer to a classified project a long while back. The interviewer used the term "Aurora" at some point, and immediately looked nervous and scared about it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kyle Boatright View Post
    And I still don't understand the why behind the X-37B...
    Good. Security's working, then. :-)

    Ron Wanttaja

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    While drones have taken over a lot of things I still believe we have some unmentionables in the fleet.The reason being is we had a series of sonic booms on the east coast about a year ago that were unlike any we've ever heard.They eventually said it may have been from a F-18 on the test track off the coast from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.But that claim came 2 days late and I know for a fact that it wasnt from their F-18's Or anything that shows up on radar either no matter how small the signature they leave.
    The weird thing is we still get tremors like we did that day every once in a while but they arent followed by the booms as much.

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    Quote Originally Posted by Aerowerx View Post
    IMHO, they would not have "spilled the beans" on the SR-71 until they already had a replacement. As for what that is, I have no idea.

    Remember that for many years the SR-71 " didn't exist", and then suddenly there it was.
    Not quite; the program was announced to the public about a year and a half after the Air Force signed a contract with Lockheed to deliver six aircraft.

    ​simplify.

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    Quote Originally Posted by Topaz View Post
    Why? Because the digital cameras on spy satellites are now almost as good as the old film "birds", and there are now unmanned aircraft, highly stealthy but subsonic...
    The problem with satellites is that you have to wait for the next one to pass over your target area, and then it may be in range for 15-20 minutes (just guessing, folks!).

    With the drones they can loiter over the area until the next one comes to relieve it. And they are small enough that you can have them stationed all over the place, even on a Navy carrier.

    Speaking of 'relieve', drones don't have to do that when a real pilot would.
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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    From a reliable source, the SR-71 is capable of more speed and altitude. The engines gain thrust as speed increases, but the restricting conditions is that the shock cone from the long nose narrows with increasing speed and starts to expose the wingtips to freestream velocity at (I don't recall if it was M3.2 or M3.5). Lockheed told the Air Force that it could fly faster, it that they (the Air Force) would be the test pilots for the higher speeds and would do so at their own risk.

    I would imagine the true limiting factor would be if the shock cone narrowed enough to expose the rudders and engine inlets to freestream air.

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    Re: Beyond the SR-71

    Quote Originally Posted by Aerowerx View Post
    The problem with satellites is that you have to wait for the next one to pass over your target area, and then it may be in range for 15-20 minutes (just guessing, folks!).

    With the drones they can loiter over the area until the next one comes to relieve it. And they are small enough that you can have them stationed all over the place, even on a Navy carrier.
    Which doesn't help you when the area of interest (AOI) is in the middle of the Gobi desert.

    Drones and manned aircraft are limited by political and practical limitations. They're great to support tactical operations over areas you control, but for long-term worldwide intelligence, you need satellites. Satellites can often get you data faster than air-breathing intelligence platforms. It takes X hours to task an aircraft and have it fly to the AOI. But in the next twelve hours, swarms of satellites will pass by just in their normal orbits. And some systems are watching 24 hours a day. You might have to fight for priority, but the data CAN be collected.

    Frankly, one needs a mix of tactical and strategic reconnaissance assets. No one expects a single type of airplane to fill the Air Forces needs (e.g., they're not using C-17s as interceptors), and the country needs a mix of platforms to fill intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance needs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aerowerx View Post
    Speaking of 'relieve', drones don't have to do that when a real pilot would.
    "The most beautiful sight in orbit is a urine dump at sunset" - Rusty Schweickart, Apollo 9.

    Ron "Flush Twice, it's 400 NM to DC" Wanttaja

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