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Tuesday, June 27, 2017
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Aurora Concept

Originally thought to be a Lockheed product, the Aurora bears a striking resemblance to a piece of conceptual art published in Jane's Defense Weekly around 1997. It was rumored to be a creation of McDonnell Douglas' "Phantom Works Division" near Phoenix, Arizona. The three different propulsion systems aboard this vehicle were symbolically suggested as three exhaust ports, with only two inlets.   Its exterior is entirely covered in heat ablative tiles like the Space Shuttle.
 
The Jane's image may have been artistic shorthand for the fact that only two of the three propulsion subsystems were "air-breathers", that is, that they were relying on an atmosphere for ignition of a fuel.  The third propulsion system was stated to be a small rocket engine and maneuvering jets that were concealed inside a clamshell-like compartment at the center of the afterbody.
 
The primary propulsion system comprised four internally mounted high-bypass turbojet engines, with inlet and exhaust ports that could be closed to flush configuration as the secondary propulsion system began to be activated.
The secondary propulsion system, according to at least three witnesses I have spoken with, involves a series of fuel injector-like nozzles that are mounted just aft of a slight ridge that runs transversely across the widest part of the vehicle, on both the dorsal and ventral surfaces.  It functions very much like one, large linear aerospike engine, with the entirety of the vehicle's afterbody being that aerospike system.
 
Witnesses stated that the vehicle exhibited considerable erosion on the rear of the fuselage, from ignition of fuel expelled from the nozzles along the ridge.   The concept essentially involved the introduction of a hydrogen-based fuel that would spontaneously ignite in the super-heated super-sonic shock wave that would separate at the top of the slight transverse ridge.  This ignition would cause the fuel to explode, more or less "pinching" the vehicle's afterbody forcing it forward.
 
During an interview with Art Bell on Coast to Coast about nine years ago, I described this process as being like squeezing a wet pumpkin seed between your fingers and watching it shoot away.  Someone adopted the comparison, claiming thereafter that the vehicle was called "The Pumpkinseed".   Not true.
 
While transitioning from internal to external engines, the vehicle leaves a distinctive contrail that has been described as "doughnuts-on-a-rope".  The secondary propulsion system was said to operate on a short, pulsing duty cycle, (thus the nickname, "Pulser") and my personal observations of the craft flying over various parts of the southwest suggests that the interval (at speed) was approximately five seconds on and ten to fifteen seconds off.  One witness, an employee from Lockheed, stated that the vehicle was capable of 12,000 mph at altitude.
 
The third propulsion system was intended for exo-atmospheric operation, that is, maneuvering in space, outside the atmosphere.  One witness said the craft was remotely piloted, using a binocular infrared imaging system, with what appeared to be mirrored "Infrared seeker heads" mounted about three feet off center to either side of its nose. While deployed outside the atmosphere, this would give such a vehicle a nearly unlimited loiter time over enemy territory, and may well be what spelled the end of the Cold War.
 
The aircraft had a payload of 121 vertical launch tubes in its belly, capable of carrying conventional or nuclear-tipped warheads mounted in a downward-pointing , cone-shaped re-entry vehicle similar to the so-called "MIRV" or Multiple, Independently-Targetable Reentry Vehicles.
 
The launch mechanism was remarkably simple, in that each MIRV was secured in its individual tube behind a circular external heat ablative tile.  These tiles were mounted to the airframe with explosive bolts which were the initiation point of a launch sequence.
 
This sequence involved triggering the explosive bolts, after which the entire MIRV was ejected from the vehicle by a very large, coiled spring.  Behind the vehicle, but in front of the spring was another circular tile with a mechanism incorporated into its edges that would stop its forward progress as it reached the surface of the fuselage in a flush configuration.  A number of aviation authors have criticized this scenario, saying that 121 large springs would be too heavy.   I counter by saying that having a compressed gas ejection system would be far more complex, less reliable and might ultimately not be powerful enough to force 121 MIRVs out of all their weapons bays.
 
Once ejected from the craft, the MIRV would self-stabilize in the airstream and acquire its target.  The entire sequence of an individual weapon launch took a mere fraction of a second, ending in the surface returning to its smooth condition.   This launch mechanism was particularly well suited to launch at high Mach numbers, as opposed to a normal, internal weapons bay with outwardly opening doors.  Under the circumstances, such a set of doors would be ripped from the vehicle and probably cause it to begin tumbling and disintegrate.
 
The landing gear was a typical tricycle arrangement, each strut having two tires.   The nose gear was said to be very long and spindly, looking very much like the nose gear on the former Concorde super sonic passenger jet.  The main landing gear were said to be a trailing arm configuration, with a single large tire on either side at the extended portion of the strut.
 
Two different witnesses described the tires, independently of one another as resembling a braided, stainless steel wire mesh, rather than some sort of rubber.   This was probably a means of protecting the internal air "bladder" of each tire from rupturing due to heat exposure.   A cement truck driver, operating his rig late one night near the eastern end of Norton AFB, San Bernardino, California stated that the tires looked just like a short length of high-pressure, AeroQuip stainless mesh hose, wrapped around a steel rim.  He witnessed the aircraft being escorted out of the base by two heavily-armed F-15 Eagles, one on either side, at about 1 AM on a weekday night.
 
The aircraft had control surfaces both fore and aft, as well as  a set of six small NACA ducts set back slightly from its leading edge on the ventral surface and perhaps the dorsal surface as well.   These six inlets were complemented by another six, small exhaust ports straight back matching each position along the trailing edge.   The internal engine inlets were also similar to the NACA duct, with an kind of hinged, trap door that pivotted upward from the front of the opening to close the inlet in a smooth position. 
 
Similarly, the exhaust ports, although they were trapezoidally shaped, were also designed to pivot closed from their trailing edge.
 
For additional details, Google the phrase, "F-19" to see what I believe was the proof of concept vehicle for the "Pulser".  The eye-witness, a former astronaut according to one source, stated that the prototype was completely stealthy and had two vertical stabilizers (or "tails"), one above the fuselage and one below.   Both looked like the tail mounted on the old B-17 Flying Fortress of World War II.
 
This aircraft is believed to have been built in the early 1980's, going into deployment in 1983 or thereabouts with full deployment of up to 18 aircraft by 1986.  A second production run of an additional six aircraft were said to bring the total number to twenty four.   One source from the Department of Defense told an editor with Aviation Week that the aircraft had many unresolved problems, and "didn't work very well".
 
Check the next page for an illustration (large file).

Copyright Mark McCandlish