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Aurora - a famous speculative project

Meteorit

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One thing that makes Aurora a good speculative (nonexistent) program is that everyone can project his own perceptions, views and wishes to it. In the most realistic view it can be a Mach 5 vehicle with turbofans and ordinary ramjets. A little further out it can have PDE engines, or then scramjets for speeds of Mach 6 to 8. If you are even more into the conspiracy stuff, then it can have anti-gravity propulsion, and if that is still not enough it can be based on reverse engineered alien technology!
Each one his/her own.
 

Meteorit

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quellish said:
The Aurora legend certainly took on a life of it's own.
By the mid-90s Aurora was supposedly an operational cryogenically fueled hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft meant to replace the SR-71.
Even a very small number of such aircraft would leave a huge logistical footprint, and that never materialized. The strategic reconnaissance mission of the SR-71 had long been orphaned, and other than for a few specific needs the tide was turning in favor of persistent surveillance rather than quick reaction.

That said, there is still considerable anecdotal information that suggests a small test force of very fast and/or unusually propelled aircraft were being flown at the time. There was also a role for such an aircraft in SAC's planning at the time, supporting the B-2 in prosecuting strategic relocatable targets (i.e. locating mobile ICBMs and telling B-2s where the haystack is).

It's a fascinating set of mysteries.
According to the Area 51 historian Peter Merlin there may have been a high-speed test aircraft flown out of Groom Lake that used multiple types of propulsion and later crashed.

And quellish, do you think you would be able to recover your unfinished Aurora pages from those old hard drives you mentioned some time ago?
 

Stargazer2006

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Aurora is only one part of the speculation game: think of Blackstar, Brilliant Buzzard, YF-24 or Senior Citizen to name only the most obvious. All aircraft with lots of testimonies/arguments to justify their existence but so little evidence... and since "nature hates emptiness" as we say in French, the natural human tendancy is to fill the gaps... it's a bit like a popstar: the more secretive, the more people make up. Reality is often disappointing... though in the case of those classified programs, this probably doesn't apply, if one keeps in mind all the aircraft that remained classified for years and were still fascinating when they were finally revealed (Nighthawk, Bird of Prey, Tacit Blue).
 

quellish

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Stargazer2006 said:
Aurora is only one part of the speculation game: think of Blackstar, Brilliant Buzzard, YF-24 or Senior Citizen to name only the most obvious. All aircraft with lots of testimonies/arguments to justify their existence but so little evidence... and since "nature hates emptiness" as we say in French, the natural human tendancy is to fill the gaps... it's a bit like a popstar: the more secretive, the more people make up. Reality is often disappointing... though in the case of those classified programs, this probably doesn't apply, if one keeps in mind all the aircraft that remained classified for years and were still fascinating when they were finally revealed (Nighthawk, Bird of Prey, Tacit Blue).
Unfortunately, with special access programs there has to be a "need" to declassify them. Those reasons vary quite a bit. There isn't really an annual "should this still be classified" review process, and as a result once something goes behind the big black curtain it tends to stay there - and incur all of the costs associated with special access programs.

Some have more evidence than others. We now know quite a bit more about SENIOR CITIZEN than we did in the 90s. QUARTZ/TIER 3 is now halfway out in the open (there are many, many public documents that talk about it). Most of those cases had money that was relatively easy to follow (other than QUARTZ/TIER 3). Blackstar/BRILLIANT BUZZARD was a tough one because it was supposedly an SDIO program, and their budget often worked more like an intelligence agency than DoD. SENIOR CITIZEN will probably not be declassified any time soon because of it's connections to current programs that are fighting for funds.
There are plenty of interesting things out there, and hints there may be more.


I'm looking at my hard drive problem, the issue here is that the media is now so old and obscure it's difficult to find a solution for reading it on a current computer.
 

coach46

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Meteorit said:
One thing that makes Aurora a good speculative (nonexistent) program is that everyone can project his own perceptions, views and wishes to it. In the most realistic view it can be a Mach 5 vehicle with turbofans and ordinary ramjets. A little further out it can have PDE engines, or then scramjets for speeds of Mach 6 to 8. If you are even more into the conspiracy stuff, then it can have anti-gravity propulsion, and if that is still not enough it can be based on reverse engineered alien technology!
Each one his/her own.
On your list of potential Aurora engines, I miss my personal favorite, the RBCCE (Rocket Based Combined Cycle Engine)
 

Meteorit

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quellish said:
Some have more evidence than others. We now know quite a bit more about SENIOR CITIZEN than we did in the 90s. QUARTZ/TIER 3 is now halfway out in the open (there are many, many public documents that talk about it). Most of those cases had money that was relatively easy to follow (other than QUARTZ/TIER 3). Blackstar/BRILLIANT BUZZARD was a tough one because it was supposedly an SDIO program, and their budget often worked more like an intelligence agency than DoD. SENIOR CITIZEN will probably not be declassified any time soon because of it's connections to current programs that are fighting for funds.
There are plenty of interesting things out there, and hints there may be more.
Can you elaborate a bit on what exactly we now know more about SENIOR CITIZEN? It was an unbuilt stealth STOVL transport aircraft and the design depicted in http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,413.msg54809.html#msg54809 really was the Northrop proposal?

Also, it would be great to hear your opinion on the "Aurora" budget item. I am of the minority that believes no high speed reconnaissance aircraft was built, yet won't buy the "it was for the B-2 program" argument either. Somewhere it was said the projected money was never actually spent next year, so I think there was a program called "Aurora" but it was not proceeded with.

coach46 said:
On your list of potential Aurora engines, I miss my personal favorite, the RBCCE (Rocket Based Combined Cycle Engine)
Sorry, it was not meant to be an exhaustive list. :)
 

sferrin

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SOC said:
Weren't those images discovered to be fake, generated by a guy with a model hanging by wires? It looks like an exact copy of the speculative Aurora from Bill Sweetman's book.
They're fake. I even found the site of the guy who made the RC model at one point and posted it on some forum a few years ago.
 

Stargazer2006

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sferrin said:
SOC said:
Weren't those images discovered to be fake, generated by a guy with a model hanging by wires? It looks like an exact copy of the speculative Aurora from Bill Sweetman's book.
They're fake. I even found the site of the guy who made the RC model at one point and posted it on some forum a few years ago.
Thanks Scott. SOC gave the link to the said forum in the previous page, and now I'm totally convinced that these are fakes. Very well done though!
 

quellish

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Meteorit said:
Can you elaborate a bit on what exactly we now know more about SENIOR CITIZEN? It was an unbuilt stealth STOVL transport aircraft and the design depicted in http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,413.msg54809.html#msg54809 really was the Northrop proposal?
I'll look through the SENIOR CITIZEN thread on here again to make sure I'm not duplicating anything already said and post in there.
The short version is that Lockheed, Northrop, and Boeing all appear to have been serious competitors for the project. Today the same requirements are driving other programs (I don't recall the name(s), but the C-130 sized stealthy transport programs). Much of the work done for SENIOR CITIZEN made it into JSF at various points. These are both reasons that it's unlikely that the work done on SENIOR CITIZEN will see the light of day soon, unless somehow it was procured in limited numbers which does seem unlikely ("See? We made it work once before!").

Also, it would be great to hear your opinion on the "Aurora" budget item. I am of the minority that believes no high speed reconnaissance aircraft was built, yet won't buy the "it was for the B-2 program" argument either. Somewhere it was said the projected money was never actually spent next year, so I think there was a program called "Aurora" but it was not proceeded with.
[/quote]

AURORA was PE 0101119F, which translates roughly to "Strategic, Basic Research, Unknown R&D Category, Military Sciences, Serial 19, Air Force" according to my secret decoder ring (http://homepage.mac.com/quellish/bd2/pe2.html) . It appeared only in 1986 budget documents, and then disappeared as a line item/independant PE code. For FY 1987 it was projected to eat $2.2B, which was a large increase over the 1986 request. It is true that the money was never allocated to that PE code, however other budget activities received a boost of about that amount for both years.
ALMOST the same thing happened with J-UCAS recently. In 2005 the Air Force pulled out of the program, and the Navy was slotted to have the Air Force's money, real and projected, allocated to their effort. That happened in the budget request, but in closed session Congress removed an equivalent amount. Those amounts appeared in the Air Force's black hole line items for those years.
Gee, I wonder what for! There's more to THAT story...

Now, the idea that AURORA was a line item for B-2 competition funding does not (at this time) hold water given the public information available. For one, the B-2 was no longer classified as in competition at that point, it was entering into procurement or advanced development. For another, the budget simply does not operate that way. A Program Element is what it says it is - in this case basic research for a strategic air force system that was filed under airborne recon. They don't hide money in bogus program element codes, for that they have the catch all "Selected Activities" and the like.
A determined researcher could now audit most of the B-2's budget history and find out if during those years there was an influx of those amounts. I have not yet had the time to do so, but it may solve this mystery once and for all.

What was AURORA? The PE code decoder used above is based on updated PE code information from the late 90s, it may not be 100% accurate for a 1986 PE code but should be close (it calls the PE code for the ACM during that time basic research as well!) . AURORA was a strategic program, apparently in it's early stages. It is very likely that it had something to do with airborne reconnaissance. The funding profile is unusual, it went from $80M to a requested $2.2B a year. This may indicate that USAF was taking over the program from another owner. It was still a little too early to be funding for AARS/QUARTZ/TIER 3, though it is possible that it was part of USAF's participation in that program or one of its precursors.
 

Stargazer2006

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quellish said:
It was still a little too early to be funding for AARS/QUARTZ/TIER 3, though it is possible that it was part of USAF's participation in that program or one of its precursors.
But in the right time sequence for the TR-3 "Black Manta", pretty similar in description...
 

Hoo-2b-2day

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There is an alternative explanation for the Aurora “syndrome”. It is a real project, but not a material one ie there is no hardware. It is possible that Aurora is security project (and possibly a hang over from the cold war) whose purpose is to attract the attention of other nations intelligence agencies away from other miltary related work. This would include the necessity of duping others interested in this field of endevour such as the media and amateur enthusiast (ie Secret projects) as these groups are often monitored for what information they have been able to gather.

The time span that the Aurora project has been generating interest without the secrecy veil being lifted or penetrated does lead me to suspect it is a security generated project and a very successful one.
 

Meteorit

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Thank you for your insights, quellish.

quellish said:
I'll look through the SENIOR CITIZEN thread on here again to make sure I'm not duplicating anything already said and post in there.
The short version is that Lockheed, Northrop, and Boeing all appear to have been serious competitors for the project. Today the same requirements are driving other programs (I don't recall the name(s), but the C-130 sized stealthy transport programs). Much of the work done for SENIOR CITIZEN made it into JSF at various points. These are both reasons that it's unlikely that the work done on SENIOR CITIZEN will see the light of day soon, unless somehow it was procured in limited numbers which does seem unlikely ("See? We made it work once before!").
So that thread probably represents our best knowledge about that program; perhaps I should have pointed to it in more generic manner on my post.

AURORA was a strategic program, apparently in it's early stages. It is very likely that it had something to do with airborne reconnaissance. The funding profile is unusual, it went from $80M to a requested $2.2B a year. This may indicate that USAF was taking over the program from another owner. It was still a little too early to be funding for AARS/QUARTZ/TIER 3, though it is possible that it was part of USAF's participation in that program or one of its precursors.
I agree about AARS et al.: it would fit so nicely if it only was a few years later...

And thanks for that PE decoder.

One more question: do you have any ideas concerning COPPER COAST? According to your decoder its PE 0207424F was "Tactical, Operational System, Military Space & Related, Serial 24, Air Force" at least in FY 1993 and 1994 budgets. Or, do you happen to remember offhand during which years the program was active?
 

quellish

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Meteorit said:
And thanks for that PE decoder.
Once I re-find DoD's map to the PE codes I'll go back and update it for newer browsers and new features.

quellish said:
One more question: do you have any ideas concerning COPPER COAST? According to your decoder its PE 0207424F was "Tactical, Operational System, Military Space & Related, Serial 24, Air Force" at least in FY 1993 and 1994 budgets. Or, do you happen to remember offhand during which years the program was active?
It's still active, in FY94 it was renamed to "Evaluation and Analysis Program". It's still active in the FY10 request though now they are not giving dollar amounts for special access programs. It was thought this may be a continuation of COPPER CANYON in some way, though I have never found any concrete indicators of that. If memory serves me, the actual dollar amounts seemed too small to support the idea that this was an operational aircraft/spacecraft like AURORA or BRILLIANT BUZZARD, but was very much in line with the funding levels for an effort like RED HATS (PE 0207248F). IF there was a foreign technology exploitation program for spacecraft, like RED HATS for Buran, this would be it!
It's long running, and if what I remember of the funding levels (50m-100m/year) is correct, it smells like a small operational unit. USAF Space has a few very, very black units, at least one of which flys out of North Base.
 

Meteorit

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quellish said:
It's still active, in FY94 it was renamed to "Evaluation and Analysis Program". It's still active in the FY10 request though now they are not giving dollar amounts for special access programs. It was thought this may be a continuation of COPPER CANYON in some way, though I have never found any concrete indicators of that. If memory serves me, the actual dollar amounts seemed too small to support the idea that this was an operational aircraft/spacecraft like AURORA or BRILLIANT BUZZARD, but was very much in line with the funding levels for an effort like RED HATS (PE 0207248F). IF there was a foreign technology exploitation program for spacecraft, like RED HATS for Buran, this would be it!
It's long running, and if what I remember of the funding levels (50m-100m/year) is correct, it smells like a small operational unit. USAF Space has a few very, very black units, at least one of which flys out of North Base.
Now that sounds interesting! By the way, maybe I'm too eager, but do you remember what kind of reference your AAV reference (http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,315.msg79134.html#msg79134) was, even if you can't actually access it right now?
 

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Hoo-2b-2day said:
There is an alternative explanation for the Aurora “syndrome”. It is a real project, but not a material one ie there is no hardware. It is possible that Aurora is security project (and possibly a hang over from the cold war) whose purpose is to attract the attention of other nations intelligence agencies away from other miltary related work. This would include the necessity of duping others interested in this field of endevour such as the media and amateur enthusiast (ie Secret projects) as these groups are often monitored for what information they have been able to gather.

The time span that the Aurora project has been generating interest without the secrecy veil being lifted or penetrated does lead me to suspect it is a security generated project and a very successful one.
Please see http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,2852.msg22971.html#msg22971 also. However I wonder, if it would actually be possible to insert a totally bogus program into the US budget?
 

quellish

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Meteorit said:
quellish said:
It's still active, in FY94 it was renamed to "Evaluation and Analysis Program". It's still active in the FY10 request though now they are not giving dollar amounts for special access programs. It was thought this may be a continuation of COPPER CANYON in some way, though I have never found any concrete indicators of that. If memory serves me, the actual dollar amounts seemed too small to support the idea that this was an operational aircraft/spacecraft like AURORA or BRILLIANT BUZZARD, but was very much in line with the funding levels for an effort like RED HATS (PE 0207248F). IF there was a foreign technology exploitation program for spacecraft, like RED HATS for Buran, this would be it!
It's long running, and if what I remember of the funding levels (50m-100m/year) is correct, it smells like a small operational unit. USAF Space has a few very, very black units, at least one of which flys out of North Base.
Now that sounds interesting! By the way, maybe I'm too eager, but do you remember what kind of reference your AAV reference (http://www.secretprojects.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,315.msg79134.html#msg79134) was, even if you can't actually access it right now?
I do. It was congressional records from the time of the SR-71 shutdown, where it was mentioned specifically that the successor was the Advanced Aerospace Vehicle, NOT the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (that was mentioed several years later). I don't recall who gave the testimony, just that it was early 90s, well before mention of AARS cancellation (I had a ton of material on THAT on those drives as well).
 

GeorgeA

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quellish said:
I do. It was congressional records from the time of the SR-71 shutdown, where it was mentioned specifically that the successor was the Advanced Aerospace Vehicle, NOT the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (that was mentioed several years later). I don't recall who gave the testimony, just that it was early 90s, well before mention of AARS cancellation (I had a ton of material on THAT on those drives as well).
So Dan, this seems to jive with the public statement by the ranking Republican on the Armed Services committee at the time. I'm paraphrasing, but the gist of it was, "there are two possible SR-71 replacement systems, both are too extravagant and we can't afford them, so we're not going ahead with either." Wish I could remember the guy's name...
 

quellish

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GeorgeA said:
quellish said:
I do. It was congressional records from the time of the SR-71 shutdown, where it was mentioned specifically that the successor was the Advanced Aerospace Vehicle, NOT the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (that was mentioed several years later). I don't recall who gave the testimony, just that it was early 90s, well before mention of AARS cancellation (I had a ton of material on THAT on those drives as well).
So Dan, this seems to jive with the public statement by the ranking Republican on the Armed Services committee at the time. I'm paraphrasing, but the gist of it was, "there are two possible SR-71 replacement systems, both are too extravagant and we can't afford them, so we're not going ahead with either." Wish I could remember the guy's name...

I'm going through THOMAS and gpoaccess now to try to find the records I was looking for and have found something I overlooked years ago.
When the SR-71 was cancelled, at the same time they cancelled a follow on system in RDTE that was to be funded at 100-200m for that year. This was not a SYERS-type upgrade for the SR-71, but apparently a different program (and not a UAV). This came out of DoD's budget.
So yes, it appears that they canned two "replacement" programs that we know of. This classified system, and later AARS.
 

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It was Bob Livingston (R-LA), the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee in 1990. The exact quote, courtesy of Google, is:

"The possible follow-ons (to the SR-71), which again we can't even talk about, even if we were going ahead with them, wouldn't be available for many years, six or seven years, and we are not going ahead with them."

I assumed this mean there was more than one follow-on, but that's open to interpretation.
 

Hoo-2b-2day

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In reply to Meteorite, in my post I clearly stated it could be a real project not a bogus one.

In the world of espionage and counter espionage the budgets are not tightly scrutinised by congress/governments as this would compromise many operations or projects, but the funds allocated are huge. If the Aurora project is a security project it's cost would be relative to the value of the assetts/projects it is set up to protect and as such could be in the multi billion $ without having any hardware to show for it (and as such it is most appropriate for this forum as it and it's like are the ultimate "secret projects".)

Please note although forums such as Secret Projects concern themselves with those projects that may result in some form of hardware such as aircraft or ships, much of any military establishments budget is spent on security related issues and a lot of this is to spread misinformation to confound and confuse opponents or prospective opponents. The term opponent can also be used for foreign commercial entities who are rivals for any given countries own military (and at times civilian) suppliers.
 

quellish

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Hoo-2b-2day said:
In the world of espionage and counter espionage the budgets are not tightly scrutinised by congress/governments as this would compromise many operations or projects, but the funds allocated are huge.
I very strongly disagree. Intelligence budgets are VERY tightly scrutinized by the appropriate oversight authorities.
 

Hoo-2b-2day

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Yes Intelligence and related budget are tightly scrutinised by appropriate authorities, but these authorities are specifically selected and security cleared.The majority of what they come to know is not known to the most of the government/congress and even less to the general public. This scrutiny takes place "behind closed doors" and if questions are asked outside the answer is somewhat along the lines of "I cannot answer that due to national security". Most politicians are aware of the protocols relating to security issues and what they should or should not ask.

If the government was to fully scrutinise the intelligence/security budgets it would totally undermine the environment that the operatives need to work within.

It should also be noted that just because somebody gets voted into government it does not mean that are automatically given access to sensitive information as some are not able to fulfill the requirements for an appropriate security clearance. Also much information is often on a "need to know only" basis. Lives depend on adherence to this rule.
 

quellish

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In the world of espionage and counter espionage the budgets are not tightly scrutinised by congress/governments
Hoo-2b-2day said:
Yes Intelligence and related budget are tightly scrutinised by appropriate authorities
I'm not sure what this has to do with AURORA specifically.
To get back on topic....

From "CONFERENCE REPORT ON H.R. 2461, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT (Senate - November 06, 1989)" :
"SEC. 136. RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT PROGRAMS
The Secretary of Defense shall terminate the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft program and the classified airborne reconnaissance program as discussed in the classified annex to the joint statement of managers to accompany the conference report on H.R. 2461 of the One Hundred First Congress. "

From "CONFERENCE REPORT ON H.R. 3072, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 1990 (House of Representatives - November 15, 1989)" page H8672:
"Mr. Murtha moves that the House recede from its disagreement to the amendment of the Senate numbered 27, and concur therein with an amendment, as follows: In lieu of the matter stricken by said amendment, insert `Provided, That notwithstanding Section 502 of the National Security Act of 1947, Section 136 of the Department of Defense Authorization Act for fiscal years 1990 and 1991 (H.R. 2461) or any other provision of law heretofore or hereafter enacted, neither the SR-71 nor the classified program referred to in Section 136 of the Department of Defense Authorization Act for fiscal years 1990 and 1991 (H.R. 2461) shall be terminated and that both the SR-71 and the classified system are hereby authorized: Provided further, That notwithstanding any other provision of law, any appropriations included in this Act for personnel, operation and maintenance, procurement, or research and development for the SR-71, the classified system referred to in Section 136 of the Department of Defense Authorization Act for fiscal years 1990 and 1991 (H.R. 2461) or any other classified airborne reconnaissance system are hereby authorized: Provided further, That operation of the SR-71 aircraft shall be transferred to the Air National Guard no later than July 1, 1990: Provided further, That of the amount appropriated, $175,000,000 shall be solely for expenses associated with the SR-71 program, of which $100,000,000 shall be transferred to Operation and Maintenance, Air National Guard: Provided further, That $130,000,000 is hereby authorized in addition to any other authorization for airborne reconnaissance programs and that of the amount appropriated, $130,000,000 shall be transferred to Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, Defense Agencies 1990/1991 to be merged with and to be available for the same purposes and for the same time period as the appropriation to which transferred. "
 

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Take this for what it's worth:

Posted in 2007 on the internet from a person who served from 1993 - 1996 at Edwards AFB, CA. as a Flight Test Engineer with the 412TW (SAP) and 418 FLTS (SpecOps):

I left Edwards late in 1996, the hand-writing was in neon day glow. Air Staff hated us and the SR-71 even more. They were trying to protect a replacement X-blackbird but they had only 7 of them flying, it cost $1M in fuel to just launch the thing and Pres. Clinton canceled their bank-breaking replacement in 1998 anyway. So by FY2000 the USAF was without any manned high-Mach high altitude-to-suborbital strategic recce vehicle.

aero-engineer
 

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On COPPER COAST: I wonder if it could be something like evaluation of foreign (Russian?) rocket engines (if not quite entire entire launchers or missiles)? Did the program start in 1993 or already earlier?

On AURORA/AAV: It would now be tempting to conclude that AURORA was the cancelled SR-71 follow-on, however funding of $2.2 billion for 1987 and $100-200 million for 1990 doesn't seem to support that?
 

quellish

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Meteorit said:
On COPPER COAST: I wonder if it could be something like evaluation of foreign (Russian?) rocket engines (if not quite entire entire launchers or missiles)? Did the program start in 1993 or already earlier?

On AURORA/AAV: It would now be tempting to conclude that AURORA was the cancelled SR-71 follow-on, however funding of $2.2 billion for 1987 and $100-200 million for 1990 doesn't seem to support that?
If I recall correctly COPPER COAST did start earlier (1989?), but I may be wrong.
AURORA was to get 80-100m in FY1986 and 2.2b in FY1987. The classified Air Force program that was cancelled alongside the SR-71 was to get 100-200m in 1990/91. Without more information on the history of that program's funding it's hard to say wether it was an aircraft development program or something else.
 

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Could something be deduced from technology built much later after that supposed large amount of funds in 1987 that was used to develop some classified new technology. The later stuff then has potentially had technology transfer from classified stuff. I'm thinking for example the EELV rockets which were developed between 1996 and 2002 and cost a few billion each (the dev programs). Something like Delta IV's RS-68, a large gas generator hydrogen-oxygen rocket engine with an ablative nozzle or it's upper stage which has an extendable nozzle RL-10. Boeing owned Rocketdyne back then.
 

Gannet

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The following quote is from Richard H. Graham, Col. USAF (Ret); he was a SR-71 pilot, squadron commander, and 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing Commander; in his book SR-71 Revealed The Inside Story Published by Motorbook International; Copyright 1996 on page 9

In 1990, Senator Byrd and other influential members of congress were told a successor to the SR-71 was being developed and that was why it was being retired. They subsequently found out there is no successor to the SR-71 and that the aircraft is needed to fill an intelligence void.
Thus,
Congress adds $100 million to the 1995 defense budget to bring back three SR-71s.
 

quellish

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Gannet said:
In 1990, Senator Byrd and other influential members of congress were told a successor to the SR-71 was being developed and that was why it was being retired. They subsequently found out there is no successor to the SR-71 and that the aircraft is needed to fill an intelligence void.
Yes and no. Congress was very frustrated, as no matter how much money they gave USAF, USAF did not want the SR. That is, in a nutshell, why it was retired (and brought back) more than once. This sums it up well:

From "CONFERENCE REPORT ON H.R. 2461, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT (Senate - November 06, 1989)" :
"The conferees believe that the airborne reconnaissance program is invirtual disarray. The Congress has asked for a road map for three years and has yet to receive cogent plans to guide future investment. While the conferees believe there is substantial inherent military value in the SR-71 fleet, it is clear that the Department has no intention of operating the aircraft to achieve or exploit that potential. The high cost of continued operation of an asset so ill used by the Department cannot be justified. Consequently, the conferees reluctantly recommend termination of any further operation of the SR-71s, and include a provision terminating the program. "

The successor programs were underway and funded in the late 80s and early 90s, but "successor" does not necessarily mean a high speed platform. The Tier UAV program was, in the end, the public successor program after other failures (AARS, the classified air force program, and possibly others).
There are a couple of other reports from this period that go into more detail about how unhappy the legislature was about the situation.
 

Meteorit

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quellish said:
The successor programs were underway and funded in the late 80s and early 90s, but "successor" does not necessarily mean a high speed platform.
quellish said:
I do. It was congressional records from the time of the SR-71 shutdown, where it was mentioned specifically that the successor was the Advanced Aerospace Vehicle, NOT the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (that was mentioed several years later).
quellish said:
AURORA was to get 80-100m in FY1986 and 2.2b in FY1987. The classified Air Force program that was cancelled alongside the SR-71 was to get 100-200m in 1990/91. Without more information on the history of that program's funding it's hard to say wether it was an aircraft development program or something else.
Okay, I have to admit I'm somewhat lost now. On the congress record a "classified airborne reconnaissance program" is mentioned. So was it an aircraft or not? Also I agree that successor does not automatically mean high(er) speed, however the AAV reference might point to this direction. But then again it obviously doesn't necessarily mean the 1985 AAV program but could be used more generally, like TAV has become to mean reusable space vehicles instead of just that particular early 1980s program.
 

quellish

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Meteorit said:
Okay, I have to admit I'm somewhat lost now. On the congress record a "classified airborne reconnaissance program" is mentioned. So was it an aircraft or not? Also I agree that successor does not automatically mean high(er) speed, however the AAV reference might point to this direction. But then again it obviously doesn't necessarily mean the 1985 AAV program but could be used more generally, like TAV has become to mean reusable space vehicles instead of just that particular early 1980s program.
The classified program could be anything, though careful reading of the records shows that it was not directly SR-71 related as there was at least one point where the SR-71 was cancelled but they were putting more money into this other program. So it's not like it was a realtime optical payload for the SR-71 (which had already been developed at that point anyway).
The wording, as I remember it, did point to the 1985 program. It was something like "the Advanced Aerospace Vehicle". Interesting though is that most mentions of AARS do sound more like a generic: "funds are authorized for an advanced airborne reconnaissance system", when it's clear that this is a reference to a specific program.
 

Mr London 24/7

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I have a Rich Graham book (don't recall which one) in which he mentions making a presentation at the DoD at the end of the SR program alongside a Project Manager from a classified follow-on program which was unmanned. I think he implies it was very advanced and hugely expensive (and there was a negative implication around the briefing itself). I had therefore assumed this was Quartz/AARS or some derivative. Of course no real detail is mentioned but I can look up the quote if theres interest.

OMEGA (PE 0207591F (Tactical, Operational System, Ships & Related, Serial 91, Air Force)), is another long-running and interesting PE which was still around as recently as 2005 & 2007 last time I checked.

Quellish, just out of pure interest, could I ask please if you know what happened to Paul McGinnis from the Skunk Works List days?
 

quellish

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mr_london_247 said:
I have a Rich Graham book (don't recall which one) in which he mentions making a presentation at the DoD at the end of the SR program alongside a Project Manager from a classified follow-on program which was unmanned. I think he implies it was very advanced and hugely expensive (and there was a negative implication around the briefing itself). I had therefore assumed this was Quartz/AARS or some derivative. Of course no real detail is mentioned but I can look up the quote if theres interest.

OMEGA (PE 0207591F (Tactical, Operational System, Ships & Related, Serial 91, Air Force)), is another long-running and interesting PE which was still around as recently as 2005 & 2007 last time I checked.

Quellish, just out of pure interest, could I ask please if you know what happened to Paul McGinnis from the Skunk Works List days?
That's interesting, because QUARTZ/AARS was an intelligence agency program before it became Tier III and was put under DoD control right before it was cancelled. I'm still not sure how much overt involvement USAF had while the intelligence community owned it.

OMEGA and a couple of others are very interesting because they are classified as tactical programs, yet use the single word naming of a strategic program. OMEGA may be the classified side of the U-2 program.
http://homepage.mac.com/quellish/bd2/aircraft/afsp/

I don't know what happened to Paul McG, I now live relatively near where he was in 1998 and should have run into him professionally by now, but haven't.
 

Mr London 24/7

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I've been interested on Foreign Intelligence collection efforts against something such as an 'Aurora', if indeed there was one. One would presume that attempts to obtain details and photography of such a vehicle would have been a priority, and therefore why would such not have found its way into the public domain in some fashion so long after the break up of the Soviet Union in particular.

Along related lines perhaps is a year 2000 report by the UK Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS) on ah... Aerial Phenomena... At one time classified 'UK Eyes Only' but released several years ago.

(Quote): "The projected (USAF) priority plan is to produce unpiloted air-breathing aircraft with a Mach 8-12 capability and transatmospheric vehicles." and later "as well as highly supersonic vehicles at Mach 4 to 6".

Exotic (propulsion) technologies (inc detail on PDE), starting page 4:
http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/189E48A0-0169-4C89-AA95-120EE0B50E7D/0/uap_vol2_pgs61to75.pdf

In another section "Western Programmes", several aircraft progams are detailed, firstly the SR-71 (curiously referred to by the little-used SENIOR CROWN), the F-117, F22 & B2. But of particular interest are the paragraphs on two other systems which are completely redacted along with a redacted image of each one:

'Black and other aircraft', starting page 9:
http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/6A30B96E-35AD-4F73-93B1-863F59A3A0E4/0/uap_vol2_pgs76to90.pdf

Considering the time frame, I'd dearly love to see what was there.


Another snippet made it out from the head of the 'DI55' Defence Intelligence section, noting media reports in the UK at the time on Aurora. He writes to the Assistant Chief of Air Staff:

(Quote) “Given recent speculation about Aurora by both media and MPs it is surprising that so far this has not been taken up by the Press or, indeed, again by MPs. Frankly, I can see little that we can do to follow it up. If there has been some activity of US origins which is known to a limited circle in MoD and is not being acknowledged it is difficult to investigate further. I would however be interested in your views in light of your earlier interest about Aurora.” (DEFE 24/2086 page 53).

Chief of the Air Staff does not appear willing to contribute information. In his answering letter, he writes:

(Quote) “I can add nothing to the debate.” (DEFE 24/2086 page 47).

A later memo does contain a handwritten note advising him to 'drop this subject'. However it is open to question if this relates purely to an 'Aurora' as a subject or the wider subject as a whole.

DEFE 24/2086:
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documentsonline/details-result.asp?Edoc_Id=8199474
 

seruriermarshal

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A patch from 51 area Special Projects Flight Test Squadron . I think the red after wizard is strange .
 

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mr_london_247, very interesting stuff, thank you
 

John21

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What is the supposed aerial/space vehicle on the bottom right side of the patch? And god I wish I knew what those blanked out portions were. :-[ How widely distributed would this intelligence report have been before it was pretty much declassified?
 

Lauge

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seruriermarshal said:
A patch from 51 area Special Projects Flight Test Squadron . I think the red after wizard is strange .
At the risk of raining on someones parade: What evidence is there that these badges have anything to do with Groom Lake / Area 51? As opposed to, say, having been sewn up in somebody's moms basement?

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg
 
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