Code name, Aurora, once thought to belong to the B-2 Bomber or to the F-117A Nighthawk programs, is now known to refer to a super-secret hypersonic long-range stealth aircraft designed and built for the USAF and CIA at Lockheed's ADP facility in Burbank, California. A number of sources have reported Aurora flying from Nellis AFB's Watertown Strip (Area 51) at Groom Dry Lake, Nevada.
Officially, Aurora's top speed has been set at 3,800 miles per hour with a cruise range of 5,750 miles and an operational ceiling of 150,000 feet (28.4 miles). Some independent information places Aurora's top speed closer to 5,000 miles per hour and the operational ceiling at about 40 miles.
With these impressive figures, it is obvious the Aurora was designed to replace the now decommissioned SR-71 strategic reconnaissance aircraft.
According to reports from various aviation authorities, since 1980, Lockheed and the USAF have been testing a Mach 6 hypersonic research, air-breathing, manned aircraft from the secret test range at Area 51 and that Aurora was derived from that research.
The USAF began reducing the numbers of the aging SR-71s during the mid-1980s so watchers of stealth aircraft knew something was up. Air Force Secretary Edward Aldridge, while explaining the SR-71 retirements, noted that the USAF was interested in developing a manned reconnaissance aircraft incorporating the latest stealth technology.
Aurora's engines run on liquid methane. After taking off from Watertown Strip and refueling once in flight, Aurora can cross the Pacific Ocean in about two hours!
Allocated $2.3 billion in 1985, there are now at least 25 operational hypersonic spy planes flying from Tonopah Base Area 30 in Nevada.
Two or three personnel, seated in tandem cockpits, operate the Aurora. Its external shape is double delta design with a conformal fuselage/wing blending. Aurora's radar signature is low, probably near that of the F117, which is from 0.1 to .203 square meter.
According to one retired DOD official, "With the SR-71 Blackbird, they knew we were there but they couldn't touch us. With Aurora, they won't even know we're there!"
Lockheed has been studying hypersonic aircraft, Mach 4 to Mach 7, with operational ceiling of up to 250,000 feet (47.3 miles) for years, so it should come as no surprise that squadrons of Auroras are now flying.
Designed and built by the Phalanx Organization, Inc., based in Long Beach, California, the Dragon is a VTOL two-engine aircraft with a 650 knot maximum speed, 30 to 40 knots reverse speed, 2,600 nautical mile range with a payload of about 1,800 pounds and a maximum takeoff weight of 10,000 pounds. The MP-21 Dragon will be manned by up to three personnel and powered by two 4,500/5,000 pound Garrett 731-3 turbine engines. Thrust nozzles similar to those on Harrier jumpjets will be utilized; four for each engine for a total of eight thruster nozzles. Single engine horizontal flight will be possible since each engine nozzle extends to both sides of the aircraft, however, the plane would not be able to hover or reverse if one engine was disabled by enemy fire.
Low fuel consumption, projected to be .485 pounds per pound per hour, is maintained by varying the size of the nozzles' outlets to keep the proper 1,100 to 1,200 foot-per-second exhaust velocity for maximum efficiency.
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