posted on Aug, 31 2012 @ 07:39 PM
I spoke to a source who is intimately familiar with all past and current U.S. hypersonic programs. He said the AURORA line item in the 1986 budget was
not an aircraft program at all, but merely a funding line to support development of the B-2 stealth bomber. Lockheed Skunk Works chief Ben Rich
confirmed this in his autobiography. My source also said that there was no hypersonic SR-71 replacement. The "Aurora" rumors of the late 1980s and
early 1990s were apparently the result of creative guesswork and wishful thinking.
The SR-71 replaced the A-12, mainly due to the insistence of Gen. Curtis LeMay that Strategic Air Command be responsible for airborne strategic
reconnaissance platforms. The YF-12 was an interceptor prototype only, and never went into production. The D-21 drone was originally designed to be
launched from an A-12-type aircraft, but a fatal launch mishap resulted in termination of that version. The D-21B, modified for launch from a B-52,
performed several operational missions, but failed to return any useful data and was retired.
Bothe the A-12 and SR-71 were designed to survive a high threat environment through a combination of speed, altitude, stealth, and electronic
countermeasures. During numerous missions over heavily defended targets no Blackbird was ever shot down. One A-12 picked up a tiny piece of shrapnel
from a surface-to-air missile, but it caused no significant damage.
Most hypersonic efforts between 1964 and 1995 were geared toward developing transatmospheric vehicles for improved access to space, and not airborne
reconnaissance. During the early 1960s, the USAF Flight Dynamics Laboratory (FDL) designed potential shapes for hypersonic vehicles. The most
promising shapes, designated FDL-5, FDL-6, FDL-7 and FDL-8, were optimized for sustained hypersonic gliding and powered flight and re-entry. The basic
shape was a 75-degree triangle with various tail and fin arrangements. In the late 1960s, Lockheed and the Flight Dynamics Laboratory built a
full-scale mockup of a hypersonic research vehicle using the FDL-5 shape. There was also subscale wind tunnel model test program for the FDL-5
configuration that provided researchers with aerodynamic data, component force and moment data, pressure data, and photographic data for the Mach
number range between 1.5 to 20. That seems to be as far as the project ever got, just another roadkill on the hypersonic highway.
Groom Lake (Area 51) does not have the world's longest runway, as some people have claimed. The airstrip in question was originally built for the
A-12 because the U-2 runway at Area 51 was insufficient. According to Area 51 Standard Operating Procedures, Landing Area Rules, dated 1 December
1968, the new strip, Runway 14/32, was 8,625 feet long with a 6,000-foot asphalt extension to a concrete turnaround pad followed by another 5,000 feet
of asphalt. The asphalt overrun was not lighted, and therefore not considered "remaining runway" during hours of darkness. The lakebed extension was
a strictly a safety feature to prevent loss of a high-value asset.
In the Mid-1980s the runway was extended approximately 5,000 feet on its south end because the lakebed end became flooded during the rainy season.
Following the extension, its total length was about 13,625 ft plus the 11,000-foot overrun which was beginning to show the effects of age.
Runway maintenance costs began to outweigh the benefits of building a new airstrip. Construction of a new airstrip, Runway 14L/32R, began in 1991. The
old airstrip became Runway 14R/32L. As the new airstrip approached completion, the north half of Runway 14R/32L was closed, along with the lakebed
extension. At approximately 10,000 feet, the old runway was now the shortest airstrip at Area 51. Eventually it was closed altogether.
The new runway is about the same length as the main portion of the old runway (about 13,000 feet), but does not have a lakebed extension.
There is absolutely no evidence of an operational hypersonic aircraft at Area 51 or elsewhere. In 1983, representatives of the Lockheed Skunk Works
briefed NASA on the company's studies and interest in hypersonic vehicles. At that time, most of Lockheed's recent research had been centered around
"a vehicle that would have a similar mission to the SR-71 with a higher Mach number and altitude capability, but similar range." Unfortunately,
there were a number of obstacles including the lack of a ready supply of liquid hydrogen, the challenge of developing materials that could withstand
extreme heating during extended periods of Mach 4 to Mach 5 cruise, and the problems associated with proposed propulsion systems.