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Aurora Aurora
Strategic Reconnaissance

The name "Aurora" first appeared in a 1985 budget document with a line by that name slated to receive $80 million in FY 1986 and $2.2 billion in FY 1987. Since the item appeared just after the TR-1, many conjectured this project was a high-speed reconnaissance aircraft to replace the SR-71. As early as 1979, the Air Force had begun studying a "...Mach 4, 200,000-ft.-altitude aircraft that could be a follow-on to the Lockheed SR-71 strategic reconnaissance vehicle in the 1990s."

The Air Force, NASA, and several aerospace contractors undertook design studies of Mach 5 aircraft throughout the early and mid-1980s that may have supplied the basic information needed to develop such a concept. The principal difficulties these studies had to address were the development of engines able to power an aircraft at speeds exceeding Mach 5 and developing structures capable of surviving the intense aerodynamic heating experienced at such high speeds (see the Hypersonic Waverider site to learn more about high-speed flight).

If it does exist, many conjecture the Aurora may look something like the Mach 3 XB-70 Valkyrie or NASA's cancelled X-30 National Aerospace Plane (NASP). Both vehicles were wedge-shaped with delta wings of small area. Both combated heating issues by circulating onboard fuel along surfaces experiencing the greatest heat fluxes. While the XB-70 was propelled by conventional jet engines, the X-30 was to have been powered by advanced ramjet or scramjet engines using cryogenic fuels to operate at speeds exceeding Mach 5.

Based on this technological progression and close scrutiny of the US budget, many observers are convinced the US Air Force was able to develop, build, and test a large high-speed aircraft by the early 1990s. Shortly thereafter, reports of loud sonic booms and sightings of strange contrails over Great Britain and southern California began to surface. Some believe these reports provide further evidence of a very high-speed aircraft using some exotic form of propulsion. It is interesting to note, however, that these reports rapidly trailed off after 1996 suggesting that whatever vehicle mentioned in these sightings may have been only an experimental prototype no longer in use.

The US government has repeatedly denied the existence of an aircraft called Aurora or any similar follow-on aircraft to replace the SR-71. Since the evidence supporting the Aurora is circumstantial or pure conjecture, there is little reason to contradict the government's position.

Data below estimated and completey conjectural
Last modified 04 March 2011

First Flight possibly late-1980s
Service Entry

existence unconfirmed

CREW: possibly two: pilot and systems officer



Wing Root unknown
Wing Tip


Length 115 ft (35 m)
Wingspan 65 ft (20 m)
Height 19 ft (6 m)
Wing Area 3,200 ft (300 m)
Canard Area

not applicable

Empty 65,000 lb (29,480 kg)
Normal Takeoff unknown
Max Takeoff 157,000 lb (71,215 kg)
Fuel Capacity internal: 88,000 lb (39,920 kg)
external: not applicable
Max Payload

4,000 lb (1,815 kg)

Powerplant possibly turbofan engines for subsonic flight and
ramjets, scramjets, or pulse detonation engines for supersonic flight
Thrust unknown

Max Level Speed at altitude: possibly Mach 5 to Mach 8 (some suggest up to Mach 20)
at sea level: unknown
Initial Climb Rate unknown
Service Ceiling 131,000 ft (40,000 m)
Range 8,000 nm (15,000 km)
g-Limits unknown

Gun none
Stations none
Air-to-Air Missile none (although some suggest a long-range AAM like the AIM-54 Phoenix might be carried)
Air-to-Surface Missile none
Bomb none
Other cameras, IR sensors, other recon sensors

Aurora Possible high-speed advanced reconnaissance platform


existence unconfirmed


United States (US Air Force)




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