The Buzz

Rumors of Secret Warplanes Preceded Mach 6 SR-72 Spyplane Reveal

Then it got even weirder.

In the late 1990s, journalist Nick Cook of Jane’s Defence Weekly traveled to Lockheed’s famed Skunk Works to interview its head, Jack Gordon, and tour the facility. He later recounted a mysterious incident that left him scratching his head.

“Just before I left the [Skunk Works] building, I stopped in front of a large chart on the wall of the lobby area,” Cook wrote. “I hadn’t noticed it on the way in. It proudly illustrated the lineage of every Skunk Works aircraft since the XP-80. Past the picture of the U-2, past the SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117A Stealth Fighter, past the YF-22 and DarkStar, and there was something called ‘Astra.'”

“Sitting at the top of the tree, Astra looked like an ultra-high-speed reconnaissance aircraft,” Cook added, “every pundit’s dream of how Aurora ought to look.”

Cook asked Lockheed’s press representative what “Astra” was, and weeks later was told it was a 30-year-old “concept for a high-speed airliner.”

That a 30-year-old concept plane would be at the top of a tree of Skunk Works aircraft is … peculiar.

From black to white?

Part of the reason Aurora has fascinated so many for so long is because—piecing together various sightings, rumors and reports—a timeline emerges that looks like the developmental and operational timeline of a real aircraft.

That, and people like things that go real fast.

Could the SR-72—which Lockheed Martin has designed to fly at speeds up to Mach 6—represent an aerospace program that has existed for some time in the world of secret “black” aircraft programs, and is now being pushed into the “white” world of public programs? If so, why now?

Finally, one has to ask. Given the importance of strategic reconnaissance flights to the U.S. military, why wouldn’t a replacement to the SR-71 have been built a long time ago? Why does the plane announced by the Skunk Works today look like Aurora concept art from 20 years ago, and why does something just like it appear on the wall at the Skunk Works alongside operational aircraft?

Maybe there was no Aurora all along. Or maybe Lockheed’s 2013 announcement — and the July 2017 sighting — means there finally will be an Aurora, just 20 years late.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here