Posts filed under 'Science'

My X-Files Moment

Back in the late spring of 1998, I was driving from Oregon to Chicago along I-80 when I spotted a very bizarre looking aircraft. It was late morning and I recall being between North Platte and Grand Island in Nebraska. I caught a glimpse what looked like the Concorde passing briefly from one cloud bank to another (traveling south to north?). I’m guessing the ceiling at the time was around 750 to 1,000 feet. The aircraft was odd because it had no windows, but its under wing engines looked similar to the Concorde and it had the same elongated shape. I’ve seen the Concorde in flight around Dulles International Airport, so that was the visual reference I was working off of. The landing gear was not down and there were no visible marking. The overall color was light grey or white.

There were a ton of other cars on I-80 at the time, so I’m certain others saw it. But what was “it”? I guess it could have been the Concorde. But I don’t think there are any sizable airports in the area and even if there were, it’s unlikely the Concorde would be using one of them. Could is aircraft be the rumored Aurora spyplane? Maybe. But why flying so low in broad daylight? And why Nebraska? The descriptions of the Aurora spyplane I’ve read about all suggest a squatter aircraft painted black. Maybe it was one of the X-planes developed by NASA during the late ‘90s. Again, what was it doing in Nebraska? I’m not aware of any aircraft or spacecraft testing facilities in the Midwest.

I thought this whole weird experience would remain a mystery. But then last week I saw a link on to an article posted to The Register (an IT related website) about a mystery spyplane called the Blackstar (SR-3). Actually, it not just one aircraft, but two: a mothership that takes a smaller craft to the edge of space. Kind of similar in concept to Burt Runtan’s Space Ship One. In the case of the Blackstar, the mothership looks very similar to the old XB-70 Valkyrie, an American supersonic bomber that never went into production.

While I’ve never seen the Valkyrie in flight, what I saw did look very similar. However, I did not see a spaceplane attached to the aircraft. But this got me back to thinking about all the Aurora sightings. Could the small spaceplane be what folks are calling Aurora? To me this makes sense, since those who have seen the supposed Aurora have not specifically stated that it’s a large craft. I also think the proposed timeline for the Blackstar program is interesting, since the SR-71 was taken out of service right around the time Blackstar allegedly went into service.

Another intriguing clue is the suggestion the spacecraft is the offspring of the early 1960s Dyna-Soar X-20A program, which was in turn based on the Nazi era Saenger-Bredt Silverbird intercontinental skip-glide rocket bomber (Robo) concept. The Dyna-Soar program was originally envisioned as a manned hypersonic bomber delivered to low earth orbit by rocket. The program advanced to prototype stage, but was cancelled by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara in 1963. This all makes me wonder: was the program revived in the 1980s after the Space Shuttle disaster? I’m guessing the USAF was concerned about its ability to access space. And much of the R&D on this type of small spaceplane would have already been done. The same goes for the mothership. There would have been all sorts of performance data from the XB-70 program. And maybe even actual airframes and parts to work with.

So is the Blackstar still in service? According to Aviation Week, the program was canceled due to Iraq war costs or poor performance. My guess is the program has been replaced with an expensive stealth satellite system. Maybe the Aviation Week story was leaked by disgruntled folks who worked on the Blackstar program who feel they got the shaft from the current administration. But with increased classification of canceled secret projects, I doubt we’ll ever hear an official disclosure regarding Blackstar.

Blackstar: the US space conspiracy that never was?

Aviation Week & Space Technology article


XB-70 Valkyrie

Dyna-Soar X-20A

2 comments May 2nd, 2006

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