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Top Secret Aircraft that Officially Do Not Exist

 

  • March 12, 2010 3:05 pm

 

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6
Image via Hendrickson
(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attirbution-ShareAlike 3.0)
There is nothing more fascinating in the aviation world than the “black projects” – aircraft programs that are so secret that even those with the highest security clearance have no idea they exist. But occasionally the veil of secrecy is accidentally lifted, offering a fleeting glimpse into this shadowy world. Here we take to the air with six of the world’s most classified aircraft (assuming they exist, that is!).
TR-3A Black Manta
Images by Adrian Mann
Little is known of the TR-3A Black Manta, which is rumoured to have been active during the 1980s/1990s. It’s an alleged stealth aircraft that exists in the shadow world of rumour and probable misinformation – its existence vehemently denied. The TR-3A is claimed to be a subsonic stealth vehicle manufactured by Northrop Grumman (famed for its “flying wing” designs). Some say it was used in the Gulf War in conjunction with F-117A stealth fighters, but little evidence exists beyond hearsay. A more likely theory – but again unsubstantiated – holds that the vehicle identified as the “TR-3″ was merely a prototype for the B-2 Spirit.
Images via Area51ZONE
Two 1977 designs from Teledyne Ryan, a firm specialising in unmanned aerial vehicles (one manned, one unmanned), have been linked to the TR-3A. This stems in part from the fact that “TR” stands for Teledyne Ryan – a fanciful connection at best since TR is well known to denote tactical reconaissance. The fact that Teledyne Ryan was purchased by Northrop Grumman in 1999 adds fuel to the fire of conspiracy theory, while some suggest the designs resemble alleged UFOs photographed over Belgium in 1989/1990, which were chased by the Belgian Air Force. View the original patent here.
TR-3B Astra
Image via Cosmic Conspiracies
Image via Cosmic Conspiracies here and their new site, coming soon, here.
The online world is buzzing with information about the allegedTR-3B, from rumours of its fantastical capabilities to intriguing video footage. In the dark world of flying triangles, the TR-3B would seem to be king. Yet despite hundreds of sightings suggesting the existence of a large triangular aircraft that can fly slowly with little noise, this alleged black project could be one of the most classified of all time. It’s tough to know what to make of the hearsay since, to the uninitiated, reports of the TR-3B’s capabilities seem to fall somewhere between science fiction and pseudoscience.
It’s claimed that the TR-3B Astra is a nuclear powered tactical reconnaissance aircraft built with technology available by the mid 1980s. The TR-3B is said to have been developed under the Aurora Program, again muddying the waters since Aurora was thought to be the codename for another top secret spyplane (bottom). The name “Astra” has also been attributed to other rumoured black projects, including one that allegedly crashed at MoD Boscombe Down in 1994.
The TR-3B’s outer coating is said to be reactive to electrical stimulation, changing colour and reflectiveness to make the TR-3B look like a small craft or several aircraft at once. If this theory holds water, it could explain why radar operators have witnessed planes vanish from their screens while others appear out of nowhere, then accelerate to speeds and forces of gravity that would crush any human pilot. Logic says it would be much easier to trick the radar than perform structurally impossible maneuvers.
6
Image via Hendrickson
(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attirbution-ShareAlike 3.0)
There is nothing more fascinating in the aviation world than the “black projects” – aircraft programs that are so secret that even those with the highest security clearance have no idea they exist. But occasionally the veil of secrecy is accidentally lifted, offering a fleeting glimpse into this shadowy world. Here we take to the air with six of the world’s most classified aircraft (assuming they exist, that is!).
TR-3A Black Manta
Images by Adrian Mann
Little is known of the TR-3A Black Manta, which is rumoured to have been active during the 1980s/1990s. It’s an alleged stealth aircraft that exists in the shadow world of rumour and probable misinformation – its existence vehemently denied. The TR-3A is claimed to be a subsonic stealth vehicle manufactured by Northrop Grumman (famed for its “flying wing” designs). Some say it was used in the Gulf War in conjunction with F-117A stealth fighters, but little evidence exists beyond hearsay. A more likely theory – but again unsubstantiated – holds that the vehicle identified as the “TR-3″ was merely a prototype for the B-2 Spirit.
Images via Area51ZONE
Two 1977 designs from Teledyne Ryan, a firm specialising in unmanned aerial vehicles (one manned, one unmanned), have been linked to the TR-3A. This stems in part from the fact that “TR” stands for Teledyne Ryan – a fanciful connection at best since TR is well known to denote tactical reconaissance. The fact that Teledyne Ryan was purchased by Northrop Grumman in 1999 adds fuel to the fire of conspiracy theory, while some suggest the designs resemble alleged UFOs photographed over Belgium in 1989/1990, which were chased by the Belgian Air Force. View the original patent here.
TR-3B Astra
Image via Cosmic Conspiracies
Image via Cosmic Conspiracies here and their new site, coming soon, here.
The online world is buzzing with information about the allegedTR-3B, from rumours of its fantastical capabilities to intriguing video footage. In the dark world of flying triangles, the TR-3B would seem to be king. Yet despite hundreds of sightings suggesting the existence of a large triangular aircraft that can fly slowly with little noise, this alleged black project could be one of the most classified of all time. It’s tough to know what to make of the hearsay since, to the uninitiated, reports of the TR-3B’s capabilities seem to fall somewhere between science fiction and pseudoscience.
It’s claimed that the TR-3B Astra is a nuclear powered tactical reconnaissance aircraft built with technology available by the mid 1980s. The TR-3B is said to have been developed under the Aurora Program, again muddying the waters since Aurora was thought to be the codename for another top secret spyplane (bottom). The name “Astra” has also been attributed to other rumoured black projects, including one that allegedly crashed at MoD Boscombe Down in 1994.
The TR-3B’s outer coating is said to be reactive to electrical stimulation, changing colour and reflectiveness to make the TR-3B look like a small craft or several aircraft at once. If this theory holds water, it could explain why radar operators have witnessed planes vanish from their screens while others appear out of nowhere, then accelerate to speeds and forces of gravity that would crush any human pilot. Logic says it would be much easier to trick the radar than perform structurally impossible maneuvers.
Here’s where things get really interesting: The TR-3B is allegedly powered by a circular, plasma filled accelerator ring called a “magnetic field disrupter” (MFD) surrounding a rotatable crew compartment. This MFD supposedly generates a magnetic vortex field that disrupts the effects of gravity and reduces the mass of everything within the accelerator by 89% – making the craft extremely light and maneuverable. But for the more skeptical among us, a less exotic theory suggests the TR-3B Astra is nothing more than a highly advanced “air balloon”, explaining its slow speed and lack of noise… Of course, there may be no such thing.
A-12 Avenger II
Image via U.S. Navy
The A-12 Avenger II was envisioned by McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics as an all-weather, carrier-based stealth bomber for the U.S. Navy and Marines. Again shrowded in secrecy, the A-12 apparently gained the nickname “Flying Dorito”. Concept drawings and mock-ups show a flying wing design in the shape of an isosceles triangle, with the cockpit near the apex.
Image by Anynobody
(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attirbution-ShareAlike 3.0)
Development of the A-12 was hampered by problems. The project was cancelled in January 1991 by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney when the estimated price of each plane hit $165 million. The cancellation was said to be a breach of contract, resulting in years of legal wrangling. But in 2009, a court ruled that the government was justified in terminating the contract and the contractors would have to pay more than a $2 billion in charges.
Images via U.S. Navy
After the cancellation of the A-12 Avenger II the Navy bought the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. But what of the A-12 mock-ups? We were able to track one of them down thanks to those savvy online explorers at Virtual Globetrotting!
X-44 Manta
Image via strange-mecha.com
(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attirbution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported)
The X-44 Manta was a conceptual design by Lockheed Martin, based on the original F-22 Raptor (below). The X-44 was essentially a tailless Raptor with large delta wing and advanced thrust vectoring nozzles replacing normal aerodynamic control surfaces. Benefits would be a more stealthy, light airframe, with increased fuel volume and maneuverability. The rumoured plan was to convert an early F-22 prototype. But the story goes that funding was cut in 2000 and the program terminated. The X-44 also looks similar to the proposed FB-22, which was reportedly cancelled in 2006.
Image via Rob Shenk
(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)
It’s hard to know what to make of many alleged black projects. Could some of these exotic aircraft be one and the same? How much misinformation is out there? The X-44 is/was a flying wing design with a name similar to the TR-3A Black Manta (above), although in the X-44′s case, MANTA apparently meant Multi-Axis No-Tail Aircraft. Could this be a case of one black project’s name being mistaken attributed to another that may not exist? And despite the assertion that no flying X-44s were developed, could the project still be out there? In 2005, GlobalSecurity.org reported that the X-44 designation may be reserved for a possible NASA full-scale manned tailless flight control demonstrator. The mystery continues…
HALO (High Altitude Low Observability) / BAE Replica
Image via Planeman (AboveTopSecret.com)
(Image courtesy of AboveTopSecret.com (CC-Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5)
Like other black projects, Britain’s attempt to create a stealth fighter remains shadowy to say the least, despite likely cancellation in the 1990s. The Replica programme was a BAE Systems design study for such an aircraft, tied in with the Royal Air Force’s now defunct Future Offensive Air System. It is believed to have run from 1994 to 1999, with a full-sized mock-up subjected to rigorous testing to determine its radar cross section. The “official” story seems to be that knowledge gained was poured into the Joint Strike Fighter program, which allegedly replaced Replica.
Image via Planeman
(Image courtesy of AboveTopSecret.com (CC-Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5)
The Future Offensive Air System was intended replace the RAF’s Tornado GR4s by 2017. But the programme was officially cancelled in June 2005, after the UK joined the U.S. Joint-Unmanned Combat Air System program. In December 2005 the UK published its intent to increase funding for testing unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV), but in June 2006 the U.S. announced the J-UCAS program would be terminated.
Images via United States Air Force
While Britain is proceeding with the Joint Strike Fighter(above), there was initially some controversy about access to the aircraft’s source code to allow British planes to be serviced and upgraded in the UK. At the time, Britain alluded to potentially pursuing an alternative to the Joint Strike Fighter, commonly thought to refer to a naval version of theEurofighter Typhoon. Or could they be referring to something else? Britain is thought to have contributed to, or cooperated with, several U.S. stealth projects going back many years. Perhaps British stealth technology is more advanced than anticipated… (A full-sized Replica mock-up is thought to be stored at BAE Warton, but details remain hazy.)
Aurora – Hypersonic Spy Plane
Image via Hendrickson and Foxbat
(Image licensed under Creative Commons Attirbution-ShareAlike 3.0)
The rumoured Aurora spyplane is certainly the world’s most famous and hyped black project, and a reliable photograph would be one of the most coveted finds in the history of classified aviation. While Aurora has never been officially acknowledged, it is historically thought to be a hypersonic spyplane designed to replace the ageing SR-71 Blackbird (below), accounting for a series of unexplained sonic booms during the 1980s and 1990s. But the name “Aurora” could be a red herring.
SR-71 Blackbird (image via U.S. Air Force)
In March 1990 Aviation Week & Space Technology revealed the term “Aurora” was accidentally released in the 1985 U.S. budget. Next to the entry, $455 million was allocated for “Black aircraft production” – suggesting the project had moved beyond R&D. Meanwhile, Aviation Week claimed that “Aurora” referred to a group of exotic aircraft projects, rather than a particular aircraft, and that by 1987 funding had reached $2.3 billion. However, Ben Rich, former director of the Lockheed Skunk Works, said Aurora was the name given to the B-2 Stealth Bomber competition funding and no such hypersonic plane ever existed.
Nevertheless, there is a significant body of evidence to the contrary. Aurora’s prime contractor is said to have been the Lockheed Skunk Works. Lockheed’s only known black projects were the U-2R and F-117A upgrade programs, with nothing new declared between 1987 and 1993. But financial returns from black projects during that time reportedly show $65 million (1987) and $475 million (1993). Analysts suspect Aurora – or whatever its real name was – first flew around 1989 and was probably around 20% into development by 1992.
F-117 Nighthawk (image by U.S. Air Force)
Sightings declined after 1992 leading some analysts to reason that, if Aurora had existed, the project had probably been cancelled by then. Some suggest that at least one Aurora aircraft was built but failed to live up to expectations due to cost. Lockheed and the U.S. government have continued to deny the existence of Aurora. But it should be remembered that the F-117 Nighthawk (above) had been flying for seven years before its existence was publically acknowledged.
Image via Google Earth
In terms of what we know, Groom Lake (popularly known as Area 51), where Aurora is believed to have operated from, has a massive runway of more than 23,000 feet. The lengthening of the runway apparently dates to the time that Aurora was supposedly flying. Such a long runway suggests an aircraft with an extremely high takeoff and landing speed (perhaps powered by a ramjet engine, as Aurora is/was believed to be). Interestingly, this runway appears to be closed today, as the yellow cross painted on the surface indicates (below), correlating to Aurora’s apparent termination and no further need for such a long runway. Despite this, Area 51 continues to expand, as the construction of a new hangar shows.
Images via Google Earth
There have been several sightings of a triangular aircraft plus unexplained “doughnuts-on-a-rope” contrails (below), although some say these could be made by conventional aircraft. The sound has been described as a deep pulsating rumble. Experts concluded that a series of bizarre sonic booms beginning in 1991 didn’t represent earthquakes or other aircraft, adding that data showed “something at 90,000 feet, Mach 4 to Mach 5.2″. One fascinating nugget of information – that seems extrordinarily coincidental – is that each unexplained sonic boom came on a Thursday morning between 6 and 7am.
There will be more to come on the Aurora, but in the meantime you can find more information here. If you enjoyed this article, check out: China’s Secret Fleet of Stealth Fighters.
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