Aircraft

Secret Aircraft Unveiling Rumored to be Imminent

Black World Planes Fly Dark Skies
by Dennis Anderson
Valley Press Editor

Source: Antelope Valley Press
October 19, 2000

PALMDALE - Along with the much photographed, sleek F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons blasting over Edwards Air Force Base, there are beyond-Top Secret "black aircraft" swooping like stealthy ravens above the Antelope Valley. These planes criss-cross the dark skies of the Southwest on their way to perform missions too secret to tell about.

The black world planes wing their way out toward remote regions of Nevada and other stations of the southwestern states military complex, carrying a half-centuryís history of Cold War mystery into the 21st century.

Recent murmurings in the black project community, along with the current November issue of the national magazine Popular Science, indicate that another mystery plane may materialize soon, with industry sources saying a bird could come out of the black by Election Day.

Or, it may never happen.

That is just the way it goes with black world programs, known in Pentagon argot as Special Access Programs. Such programs are overseen by a select few who keep a limited number of members of Congress and their staff informed on program development in classified briefings.

The November cover story of Popular Science depicts a black world-style fighter-bomber nicknamed "Switchblade" by pilots because of its switch-wing capability.

The plane dubbed "Bird of Prey" by magazine writer Steve Douglass is described as a follow-on to the FB-111 Aardvark switch-wing fighter-bomber of Vietnam vintage that bombed Libyan strongman Moammar Khadafyís palace in 1985.

Existence of a plane like the one described in Popular Science was denied unequivocally by an Air Force official knowledgeable about cutting-edge programs.

The official - with a flight test background - contended that the plane depicted in Popular Scienceís speculative illustrations defies certain engineering principles and aspects of "low observable," or stealth, technology.

Members of the community who monitor developments in defense, however, cite historical precedents for de-classification of covert programs during election season, particularly by Democratic administrations.

During his election battle with the late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, former President Lyndon B. Johnson revealed the cutting edge "Blackbird" spy plane as a means of showing his administration was not soft on defense.

A similar occurrence erupted during the campaign end game between Ronald Reagan and former President Jimmy Carter, who lifted the veil of black secrecy for an announcement of the development of stealth technology aircraft.

"There certainly is a historical precedent, in a close election where you have a Democrat with Republicans snapping at their heels," aviation writer Bill Sweetman said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

Sweetman is author of seminal open source works on secret aircraft programs, including "Stealth Aircraft - Secrets of Future Airpower."

Stealth unveiled

Sweetman recounted how the announcement of the existence of stealth by the Carter administration backfired politically, with Reagan forces accusing the Democrats of revealing precious secrets to make political hay.

"The Reagan team did that very well to Carter .... What political advantage could you gain by unveiling (now) without it backfiring?" Sweetman said. He speculated the current administration could decide that a technology or aircraft is mature enough to place into operational command, so it could be unveiled the way former President George Bush decided to when he brought the F-117 stealth fighter out of the black more than a decade ago.

Another defense watcher remained skeptical about an election year unveiling.

"Iíve been waiting for a plane to come out of the black for 10 years," said John Pike of the Washington D.C.-based Federation of American Scientists. "I am still waiting. I will believe it when I see it."

Pike attributes his logic to deduction rather than inside sources. But he said he doesnít believe any classified aircraft program has created secret planes in sufficient numbers to deploy in squadron strength, like the F-117 fleet at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

"There may be some onesies and twosies out there," Pike said. "As for an operational deployment ... I just donít believe it."

Black plane watchers seeking the Holy Grail of secret aircraft still pine for a "white world" view of a mysterious aircraft popularly known as Aurora, which has mutated from a Defense Department line item notation to a myth.

If it exists, or existed, Aurora is wrapped so tight within the cloak of secrecy that it remains in the black the same way that the F-117 stealth fighter and B-2 stealth bomber remained long hidden from view.

Such programs develop under the auspices of a kind of "shadow" Air Force, Sweetman said.

In a recent article for International Defense Review, the author noted that the Air Force $7.4 billion budget for classified procurement is more than a third of the service armís total budget. In fiscal year 2001, Sweetman noted, the Air Force plans to spend $4.96 billion on classified research and development.

That extraordinary amount of public funds is concealed within programs that American taxpayers must take on faith are well-run and well-maintained to the benefit of the security of the United States.

If it exists, Aurora remains in the black, along with a range of as many as 150 covert programs that are approved by the Department of Defense at the secretary level, with varying levels of congressional oversight.

Aurora footprints

Aurora, reported through the 1990s in publications ranging from the Washington Post to Aviation Week & Space Technology, was believed to be a high-altitude spy plane with revolutionary propulsion technology.

The plane, subject of rare but unacknowledged glimpsed sightings, was believed to be able to travel in the Mach-6 regime, leaving space shuttle-like sonic cracks in its wake.

"Aurora was described as everything under the sun," Pike observed. "It was every exotic, highaltitude technology imaginable."

Seven years ago, author Sweetman published a book about Aurora, deducing that it was a hypersonic spy plane, a kind of follow-on to the Blackbird spy plane variants. Seven years later, with Aurora still elusive, Sweetman wonders.

"I donít know," he said. "It could have been. It was technically feasible."

Sweetman also observed that some black programs exist behind a kind of fig leaf, a form of cover. He cited the white world development of the National Aerospace Plane project, curtailed in the early 1990s. Perhaps a cover for a covert program, it could be that such a project dropped from sight, vanishing into the secret military realm.

One characteristic of the Aurora footprints were space shuttletype sonic booms, some actually recorded by the U.S. Geological Service on the same inbound trajectory a space shuttle would achieve on its way to a landing at ... Edwards Air Force Base.

"There were those mysterious sonic boom reports," Sweetman said. "And they continue."

And the sonic boom reports continue periodically, he noted. His views, now, he said, are open to the idea that such a plane might be "high-supersonic" as opposed to hypersonic.

Programs denied

If a significant program is undergoing de-classification study as reported by Popular Science, it wonít be the first time that Air Force officials have denied it, or just said, "That isnít the plane."

In an article for International Defense Review, Sweetman noted that officials in charge of "core secrets" for so-called unacknowledged or black programs have the authority - even the duty - to deny existence of a program.

In the mid-1980s, speculation abounded about the existence of a stealth fighter that could elude radar, and a stealth bomber that resembled the old Flying Wing bombers designed by Jack Northrop in the 1940s.

In 1986, the famous scale model company - Testor - invited Congressional scrutiny when it unveiled its own "F-19 stealth fighter" model, three years before the F117 came out of the black.

With bland equanimity, Air Force officials said "beautiful" but that wasnít any plane in the Air Force inventory.

When the F-117 was unveiled, to the uninstructed viewer it bore at least as many visual similarities as differences to the Testor model.

John Andrews, designer of the Testor model, noted that he was within 3% of the size dimensions of the Real McCoy. That may be close in horseshoes - far away in engineering scale - but not bad for a model configured by dead reckoning.

The model was smooth and rounded, black and sleek. The F117 Nighthawk, faceted like a diamond, was black and sleek.

The black program was known as Have Blue. And its security remained tight until the veil was removed at the highest level of authority.

The plane, though invisible to the public for a decade - guarded and maintained by a cadre of secret patriots - was real enough.

Model-makers

In similar fashion, a model of a stealth bomber bore more than passing resemblance to the Real McCoy unveiled at the end of the 1990s. That model by Revell also bore close resemblance to technical sketch speculations published by Sweetman in his "Secrets of Future Airpower" book.

Recalling the 1980s, defense analyst Pike said there are key differences about trying to scope out what was happening with black budget projects then vs. now.

"There was a paper trail," he said. "With the F-117 and the B-2, there never was a doubt that they existed."

Internet sites now abound that explore the fascinations that black program aircraft hold for aviation enthusiasts.

They also carry freewheeling discussions between people who believe there is a connection between black world aircraft programs and UFO sightings.

The Air Force has had little to say about UFO sightings since it closed its own Project Blue Book early in the 1970s, or issued its own report "Roswell - Case Closed" citing the 1947 Roswell incident as a black world classified project to send reconnaissance balloons over the Soviet Union.

Programs or nicknames for suspected programs turn up on such sites with enough abundance to satisfy any Tom Clancy junkie.

Black Manta. Blind Buzzard. Senior Citizen. Gaspipe. All join the list of the great "maybe, babys" lined up next to Aurora on the black world runways that pipe aircraft along on their paces from Edwards Air Force Base to other facilities in the southwestern United States, particularly the still unacknowledged air base at Area 51 in Nevada.

Publications including the International Defense Review journal and Aviation Week & Space Technology cite Area 51 as essentially an extension of test operations at Edwards.

Such reports cannot be admitted by an Air Force command authority that still does not officially acknowledge existence of a base at the area described as Area 51, also known as "The Ranch."

More to the point, those in the know, those with access to Special Access Programs, assert that it is inappropriate to discuss or report about the topic.

An anonymous caller to the Valley Press said, "Security is a joke now. That is not the way it used to be. Many people in this Valley have done work at the Ranch, and have never spoken about it. There is nothing funny about it."

The case for security that denies knowledge of programs, technologies or tactics to foreign powers is valid, defense analyst Pike noted, even though his own organization, the Federation of American Scientists, pushes for more open program scrutiny.

"Itís more fun to run in the black, where no one knows what you are doing ... and you can bury your mistakes," Pike observed.

Certainly, the history of black programs has a distinguished record of secret victories and achievements in addition to the potential for concealing spending and program failures.

But there are failures. A 1995 congressional report noted that part of the failure of the Navyís A12 stealth carrier aircraft could be attributed to program over-compartmentalization of secrets about stealth technologies that never got shared with the teams working on the Navy plane.

Finally, sightings of inexplicable airborne phenomena can trigger fears, worry, anxiety about government cover-ups, and contribute to the questions people have of the government regarding reports about UFOs.

Stealth blimps?

Sightings by numerous witnesses have ranged in recent years from a Valley community like Rosamond just west of Edwards to the sightings shown on CNN of triangular lighted formations moving at eerily slow speeds over the environs of Phoenix.

Aviation writers including Jim Wilson of Popular Mechanics, Sweetman, Pike and others speculate the government is flying nonrigid airships that may be used for battlefield information or cruise missile defense - phased array radar platforms mounted in football-field size aircraft.

The big blimp, one writer called it.

"Blimps are very likely," Sweetman said. "They make a lot of sense. Thereís nothing better to put a big antenna in. And it would be one of the quickest and easiest ways to detect small targets."

Wilson recounted in a Popular Mechanics article published in 1999 that "optical stealth" could provide a kind of starlit-emulation for cloaking a large aircraft. In the International Defense Review journal, Sweetman also recounted, "visual stealth measures were part of the original Have Blue program."

Some lax security, particularly the leakage of nuclear weapons technology to China from the Los Alamos National Laboratories, can have strategic consequences, potentially harmful to the security of the United States, but can media reports derived from open source materials affect program security?

A writer for a respected trade industry publication noted that the Air Force, specifically, and the Defense Department in general have a history of keeping the lid wrapped effectively since the days of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb.

Sweetmanís body of work over more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles is both full of praise and insightful critical analysis of defense project security.

"It is a safe bet that foreign intelligence agencies know more than the Valley Press, if only because they have more time to look," Sweetman said.

Concluding his Defense Review Article, Sweetman observed, "If nothing else, the dearth of hard information shows that the (black) system - expensive, unwieldy and sometimes irrational as it might seem - keeps its secrets well."

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