Interesting site with LOTS of info on names that was given to the Aurora and similar projects.
In the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) Fiscal Year 1986 budget request, there was a line item labeled "Aurora" listed under the heading "air
breathing reconnaissance." It was funded for $80 million with a projected spending level in FY 1987 of $2.272 billion. In his 1994 biography Skunk
Works, Ben Rich claimed that the line item for Aurora was for the Advanced Technology Bomber competition. The ATB competition was won by Northrop over
Lockheed's bid in late 1981, producing the B-2 Spirit bomber. By 1983 it had already received funding for construction. So the theory that the Aurora
line item was a cover for ATB competition funds is a myth.
At that time, the Advanced Technology Bomber was being funded under the SABRE PENETRATOR program, and soon after the SENIOR ICE program.
Interestingly, it appears that the Aurora line items in both FY 1986 and 1987 were never funded. However, the items "Special Update Program" and
"Selected Activities" both received increases in funding that seem consistent with the amounts of the Aurora line items. The widely held rumor that
"Selected Activities" is funding for the Central Intelligence Agency has been refuted by a number of very reliable sources. Instead, they indicate
that it is either a "slush fund" for undisclosed DOD programs or funding for USAF managed intelligence collection systems. The Central Intelligence
Agency derives its funding from a variety of other sources outside of the DOD -- in accordance with the National Security Act.
The Aurora name itself is quite significant. Aurora had a place in Greco-Roman mythology. She was the goddess of the dawn (also known as Eos) who
created the stars and set them out at night. Lockheed programs, recce systems in particular, have had a long history of being named after astrological
figures and constellations. The original name for the A-12 was Cygnus, the SR-71 Oxcart (the European name for the Big Dipper), the U-2 carried the
name Isis. So the Aurora name suggests a Lockheed recce program. The fact that it is a single word codename is also worthy of note. Single word
designations indicate a much higher level of classification than other programs -- more secret than even SENIOR TREND, the F-117A program. Generally,
only a few kinds of things are grouped into single codeword compartment groups.
The F-117A stealth fighter program was hardly the first use of the word SENIOR as a code name. SENIOR has been used to designate many classified U.S.
aircraft projects. In the early 1970s, U-2 flights near Chinese airspace carried the designation SENIOR BOOK. The highly secret D-21 was developed
under the name SENIOR BOWL. SENIOR LANCE referred to a modified U-2. Other U-2 programs were identified as SENIOR STRETCH and SENIOR SPAN.
More recently, SENIOR was still used to designate classified aircraft projects. Just after the Have Blue stealth prototype in 1977, the F-117A was
referred to by the code name SENIOR TREND. Later, the Advanced Tactical Fighter program (which produced Lockheed's YF-22 and Northrop's YF-23 as
competitive prototypes) was designated SENIOR SKY. Today, SENIOR YEAR is the operational code name for current U-2 flights. SENIOR YEAR carries the
program element identification number 0301317F.
Aviation analysts believe that when the Aurora line item was shown in the budget, its code name was changed to SENIOR CITIZEN. Historically, SENIOR
CITIZEN made sense simply because the SR-71 code name was OXCART. Both names seem to have been specifically chosen to imply a gentle, somewhat slow,
nondescript project, in an attempt to baffle curious people from looking further into the name. SENIOR CITIZEN may have the same intent when it comes
to the hypersonic spy plane that is commonly referred to as Aurora.
Another conjecture (from the Freedom Ridge Oversight Group) is that SENIOR CITIZEN is a low-observable, V/STOL turbofan powered aircraft. It is not
designed to carry heavy cargo, like tanks, which a C-5 can carry, but for troops (probably Special Operations Forces) and their equipment. The
aircraft is probably manufactured by Boeing Company. It should also be pointed out that Boeing has a fairly elaborate radar cross section (RCS) range
that can be used to test the stealth characteristics of the design.
SENIOR CITIZEN is reliably believed to have been a classified U.S. military program, with a program element identification number of 0401316F. SENIOR
CITIZEN may be the codename for the program that developed the Aurora aircraft, if not the aircraft itself.
A possible designation for the supposed Aurora was believed to be the XR-7 Thunder Dart. The Thunder Dart was said to be the second part in a two part
reconnaissance mission, riding piggy-back aboard the SR-75 Penetrator -- an aircraft that resembles another secret project code named BRILLIANT
This is another possible code-name for the Aurora project. Origin is unknown.
DARKSTAR MIKE and DARKSTAR NOVEMBER
In 1992, Steve Douglass, who is believed to be the first to photograph the now-famous "donuts on a rope" contrails associated with the Aurora, heard
a radio communication to two aircraft identified over the air as DARKSTAR MIKE and DARKSTAR NOVEMBER. However, in late 1996, the USAF unveiled an
unmanned spy plane called the Darkstar, which has no relation to the Aurora. Whether these radio calls referred to this Lockheed Skunk Works-developed
aircraft is open to speculation. Some claim that the radio call and the Darkstar project are too far apart chronologically to definitively link the
According to an avid shortwave radio listener, DARKSTAR MIKE and DARKSTAR NOVEMBER are references to individual controller consoles aboard E-3 AWACS
aircraft controlling the actions of fighter aircraft in wargames being played out in the skies on a regular basis. They could be heard on military
shortwave frequencies such as 9.014 and 11.214 Mhz USB (upper sideband).
Since the Aurora was thought to be a replacement to the SR-71 plane, it has been suggested that the Aurora is actually named SR-91.
What's in a name?
Does this aircraft exist, and if it does, what is its name? Aurora? SENIOR CITIZEN? The SR-91? We don't know for certain, but the circumstantial
evidence is certainly persuasive. There are some observers who believe that if it exists, it is no longer called Aurora. Even if the mystery item in
the 1985 budget did refer to this project, the name would almost certainly have been changed after the security leak. But by any name, the Aurora is
one of the most publicly-known classified aircraft of all time