Aurora Time Line
Collected here are some of the key dates in the Aurora's "history." If you have items to add to this list mail them in.
August 1989 A former Royal Observer Corps member working on a North Sea gas rig, 100 Km off the Norfolk coast spotted a matte-black aircraft refueling from a KC-135, accompanied by two F-111s. The aircraft was "a perfect triangle", slightly bigger than an F-111. The formation was heading towards the UK coast. (This may have either been a prototype of the canceled US Navy A-12 Avenger II, several of which are reported to have flown, or more likely the Northrop(?) TR-3A Black Manta Recce aircraft). March 1990 Aviation Week and Space Technology first broke the news that Aurora was inadvertently released in the 1985 US budget, as an allocation of $455 Million for Black aircraft PRODUCTION in FY 1987. Note that this was for building aircraft, not R&D.
Observers in Nevada have seen and heard a distinctive aircraft flying over the Mojave desert at high altitude and speed, usually in the early morning. The contrail has been described as "doughnuts on a rope." Engine note at take-off "sounds like the sky ripping." Officials on the inside say "it's so black you won't hear anything about it for 10-15 years. " October 1990 Aviation Week & Space Technology published reports of: "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." May 1991 "Aviation Week" claims that briefings have been given to selected members of Congress, and high-ranking Government officials suggest that some of these aircraft might be "the ultimate weapons featured in comic books- the ones so devastating that any potential adversary would never think of disturbing the peace for fear of the "Good Guys" retaliation. Aviation Week, stressing that it is only a "theoretical possibility", claims that one of the Aurora aircraft has an airframe like a flattened American football, about 110 ft long and 60 ft wide, smoothly contoured, and covered in ceramic tiles similar to those used on the Space Shuttle which seem to be coated with "a crystalline patina indicative of sustained exposure to high temperature. . . a burnt carbon odor exudes from the surface." Power comes from conventional jet engines in the lower fuselage, fed by inlet ducts which open in the tiled surface. Once at supersonic speed, the engines are shut down, and Pulse Detonation Wave Engines take over, ejecting liquid methane or liquid hydrogen onto the fuselage, where the fuel mist is ignited, possibly by surface heating. Speeds are reported to be in the region Mach 6-8. Beneath the fuselage are 121 tile-covered ports, housing nuclear or conventional munitions. These are ejected downwards at subsonic speed. The aircraft is reported to have a minimal RCS (Radar Cross Section), and a dedicated recce version is possibly already in service. June 1991 A series of unusual sonic booms were detected in 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. 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. In the article "In Plane Sight?" which appeared in the Washington City Paper on the 3rd of July 1992 (pg. 12-13) one of the seismologists, Jim Mori, noted: "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." November 1991 Reports of "unusually loud, rumbling sonic booms" near Pensacola, Florida in November 1991 have been associated with the Aurora program. Late 1991 An anonymous arms-control analyst says he examined a late-1991 Landsat image of Dreamland that shows three white triangles sitting by the main- runway. Each was about the size of a Boeing 747. February 1992 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. While the wing lights are reportedly much brighter than normal navigation lamps, they do not illuminate the aircraft's platform. 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. Early 1992 An aircraft fitting the description of the Aurora was seen being loaded into a C-5 at night at Lockheed's Skunk Works. The C-5 then departed for Boeing Field in Seattle. Speculation is that this aircraft is a hypersonic drone launched from the larger Aurora aircraft, like the SR-71/D-21A system.
"... RAF radars have acquired the hypersonic target traveling 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." [Rogers, Jim, "RAF Radar Tracked 'Aurora' Over Scotland at Speeds From Mach 3 to Mach 6," Inside the Air Force, 24 April 1992, pages 1, 10-11.]
In early 1992 a number of houses (+/- 25) in the Netherlands were damaged as a result of a sonic boom. The strange thing was that there were no aircraft in the region that could have caused the boom... A Dutch newspapers suggested it came from a top secret plane temporarely based in Scotland for testing.
Mid 1992 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." Summer 1992 An observer saw an Aurora type aircraft on finals to a secret Lockheed- operated RCS range in the Mojave desert one night in the summer of 1992. Because it was a moonlit night, he was able from a range of about one mile to discern a prominent raised-dorsal spine, two rectangular exhaust nozzles and a light-colored paint job with darker leading and trailing edges. Other observers who have claimed to have seen a similar aircraft flying near Edwards AFB say it "dwarfed" an F-16 chase plane, and reckoned it was about 200ft long. October 1992 A night sighting was made near Beale AFB in California, ex-home of the 9th SRW flying the SR-71. The aircraft was seen in company with F-117s and a KC-135Q. (The KC-135Q was a dedicated version specifically for carrying the SR-71s special JP-7 fuel.) Because it was night, the exact shape of the "Aurora" aircraft could not be determined, but sported an unusual diamond shaped nav light pattern, which when compared to the formatting of F-117s suggest that it was about fifty percent longer with twice the wingspan. The engine note was described as being "like a very low rumble, like air being passed over a very large bottle."
Several reports have been received from the LA area of double sonic booms, minutes apart, which are characteristic of two aircraft flying slightly different tracks. The booms were recorded by the US Geological Survey's seismic monitors, and when compared with baseline data obtained from Space Shuttle re-entries and SR-71 operations suggest a speed in excess of Mach 3. A senior USAF officer hinted that Beale AFB would be assigned a new mission within two years. It is thought that "Auroras" have visited the base, probably as transients, in recent months. Local residents report hearing a series of "booms like artillery firing" emanating from within the base perimeter. Propulsion experts confirm that these booms are consistent with light-off testing of Pulse Detonation Wave Engines.
In Amarillo, Texas, Steven Douglas photographed the "doughnuts on a rope" contrail pattern of Aurora passing overhead. Shortly after, he picked-up digitally encrypted speech on a narrow-band frequency used by the USAF for special missions, and as a Comsat downlink. He also intercepted Air/Air R/T between a USAF AWACS and two unknown aircraft using the call signs "Darkstar Mike" and "Darkstar November."
A month later, radio enthusiasts in California monitoring Edwards AFB Radar, c/s "Joshua Control", heard early morning R/T between Joshua and a high flying aircraft using the callsign "Gaspipe." Joshua controllers were vectoring Gaspipe into Edwards AFB, using terminology usually used during Space Shuttle recoveries. "You're at 67000 ft, 81 miles out." was heard, followed by "Seventy miles out now, 36000 ft, above glideslope. " Now, at the time, NASA was operating both the SR-71 and the U2-R from Edwards, but it has been confirmed that neither of these types were operating at the time Gaspipe was heard.
Financial analysts Kemper Securities have examined Lockheed Advanced Development Company's declared revenues from Black programs: Returns for 1987 were $65 Million. Returns for 1993 were $475 Million. The only declared Lockheed Black Projects are U2-R and F117A upgrade programs, and nothing new has been announced between 1987 and 1993. It was also discovered that the TOTAL US budget allocation for Project Aurora for 1987 was no less than $2. 27 Billion. According to Kemper, this would indicate a first flight of around 1989. The spread of US Government payments to Lockheed indicate that the aircraft is probably about one-fifth of the way through it's development program, or has been "extensively prototyped." Around $4. 5 Billion has already been spent.
February 1993 The USAF has applied to buy over 4000 acres of land overlooking Area 51.
Local residents have reported hearing Pulse Detonation Wave Engines being tested inside the perimeter. These tests have also been reported from Edwards AFB. One local pilot who lives near Edwards said that the engines could be heard 25 miles away when being ground tested. March 1994 Further evidence of Aurora comes with details of a new hangar which has been built, several stories high, with a large gantry crane inside. Apparently this is used to mate the hypersonic drones to the Aurora mothership. Huge cryogenic storage tanks containing liquid methane or liquid hydrogen have been built. These are the two fuels that Pulse Detonation Wave Engines would use. April 1995 Freedom Ridge Shut down. A hill overlooking Area 51 is shut down by the government. January 1995 A sighting by two British Airways pilots and other witnesses at Manchester Airport on January 6 1995 has been attributed to the Aurora aircraft. July 1996 Report of a sonic boom over Orange County, CA coming on 20 July 1996. It is reported that the "quake" occurred around 3pm PST, fitting the "skyquake" pattern of previous reports. November 1996 Aviation Week magazine is reporting that SR-71 operations have resumed. The first flight was a week ago today. The fiscal 1997 budget provides $30 mil for operations, which will result in about 250 flight hours. Three crews are assigned to operations, not known how many aircraft are available. December 1996 In the Dec 2 issue of Aviation Week a small column about a "screaming roaring take off" sound heard Nov. 25th in Palmdale around 6am that morning. Article quote an old aviation hand who lives there as it being unlike anything he'd ever heard. Unknown Dates The crew of a London-bound United 747 on climb out from LAX filed an Airmiss after an "unidentified supersonic aircraft" passed within 500- 1000ft vertically of them near George AFB in California. The crew described it as "a lifting-body, like the forward fuselage of an SR-71 but without wings."
Further sightings have been made in the US: Observers in California have reported seeing an aircraft with a similar platform to the XB-70 Valkyrie, with a clipped delta wing with winglets, narrow blended fuselage with a clear canopy, sharp nose and possibly a retractable canard.
Thanks to Mark Steedman for the original file containing many of these items. Also many of the sightings taken from the FAS report on Aurora.