From Wall Street Journal... Magazine Suggests Aircraft Has Flown Mach 8 for Years
New evidence suggests that the U.S. is operating secret spy planes, possibly cruising as fast as eight times the speed of sound, and that such aircraft may have been flying for over three years.
An article prepared for Jane's Defence Weekly, a British military-affairs journal, suggest strongly that a $1 billion plane capable of far greater speed than the current world record-holding SR-71 spy plane is indeed in service globally. The speculation is based in part on a trained aircraft observer's recently reported 1989 sighting of a mysterious wedge-shaped aircraft, flying over the north sea in a formation with the U.S. built F-111 bombers and a KC-135 tanker.
The description of the plane given by British oil-drilling engineer and trained aircraft spotter Chris Gibson is sketchy-little more, in fact, than an unfamiliar aircraft shape he says he watched from his remote North Sea oil rig for about 90 seconds one hazy August day three years ago.
But in an intriguing analysis for Jane's, made available the Wall Street Journal in advance of next week's scheduled publication, the stealth technology expert who wrote the article uses the sighting as the missing link in a chain of events he believes may explain a number of U.S. military mysteries.
Citing other experts in so-called hypersonic aviation, author Bill Sweetman paints a picture of the hush-hush reconnaissance plane that he believes replaced the Lockheed Corp.'s SR-71 Blackbird when the U.S. took it out of service in early 1990. That jet, which holds the official speed record of 2,193 mph, about Mach 3.3, would be a slow-poke compared to the Mach 8 aircraft (5,280 mph) that Mr. Sweetman suggests flew over Mr. Gibson that day in the North Sea.
The Pieces Fall Into Place
His article proposes that the new plane - rumored for years to be called Aurora because that name mysteriously popped up as an unexplained defence budget line item in 1984 next to the SR-71 - is also build by Lockheed, with engines by Rockwell International Corp.'s Rocketdyne division. The Jane's report suggests: The planes cost about $1 billion each; they first flew in about 1985; and they have been the source of a series of strange earth-quake-like rumbles still occurring in Southern California and other areas of the world.
With "this last piece" of information, Mr. Sweetman says in an interview, "there are so many things that fall into place." The most important, he says, may be the mystery of why the U.S. retired its last SR-71 spy plane in 1990 with the explanation that it would rely instead on satellites to meet the reconnaissance needs once satisfied by the aircraft, believed capable of operations well above 100,000 feet.
The Jane's article, echoing others suggestions that the statement about satellites was intended as a cover for development of a new spy plane, notes that aircraft have a certain reconnaissance usefulness that orbiting cameras can't match.
"The satellite system is believed to be capable of producing imagery within 24 hours of a request: at Mach 8, however, the flight time to any point on Earth is under three hours," the article says. "Unlike a satellite, the aircraft can be scheduled to pass over a target at any desired time of day," and flies closer to the target.
The 'Skunk Works' Legacy
Lockheed won't comment on any secret programs it has going, and refers questions about reconnaissance to the Air Force. But Lockheed Advanced Development Co., the unit popularly known as the "Skunk Works," long has been considered the shop likely to be producing any future spy planes because it developed the last two generations of U-2 and SR-71 planes in the 1950s and 1960s. Both planes flew spy missions in total secrecy for years before being acknowledged - in the U-2's case only after pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down in one in 1960. The California Skunk Works also produced the F-117 Stealth Fighter, which also flew secretly before its existence was acknowledged.
The explanation of what he'd seen didn't become clear to Mr. Gibson, a veteran of the now-disbanded Royal Observer Corps of volunteer aircraft spotters, until he recently saw a drawing in an aircraft magazine of a putative hypersonic aircraft design that matched the perfect triangle shape with its 75-degree nose.
Continued in part 2
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