Skunk’s bio stirs Aurora fantasies

A press release issued yesterday that promotes a new textbook authored by two Skunk Works engineers contains a reference to a mysterious aircraft program that quickly revived old Aurora conspiracies, yet is apparently not Aurora.

The American Institute for Astronautics and Aeronautics (AIAA) describes Grant E. Carichner — who co-authored the newly-published “Fundamentals of Aircraft and Airship Design: Volume 1: Aircraft Design” — as a Skunk Works engineer who worked on several aerospace programs. The list in the press release includes the SR-71 and the “M-5 Methane Penetrator, a suspersonic stealth Short-Take Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) fighter”.

This creates a number of possibilites. There is nothing especially novel about a supersonic, stealthy, STOVL fighter, which exists already as the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. However, the “Methane Penetrator” description strongly suggests a separate project. Depending on your taste for conspiracy theory, you may choose to intepret “M-5″ as “Mach 5.0″, which is often shortened to “M5″. And now we’re talking — wait for it! — Aurora, the rumored and often-dismissed Skunk Works project that was sometimes described as a hypersonic, STOVL-capable, liquid methane-powered penetrator. Aurora has also been discredited by a wide range of sources as either an inadvertent fraud or a collosal typo in a mid-1980s budget document.

A Skunk Works spokeswoman says the M-5 Methane Penetrator is not Aurora. In fact, it’s not even really a secret. Here’s Lockheed’s full statement:

“The NASA M-5 Methane Penetrator project was a study contract completed by the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® in the early ’80s. This effort was unclassified and work by Lockheed Martin did not extend beyond the initial study contract. I would suggest contacting NASA public affairs for further information.

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One Response to Skunk’s bio stirs Aurora fantasies

  1. Howe 29 June, 2010 at 11:51 pm #

    I think that ALL aircraft that have received funding via the US tax payer should be de-classified after a certain period of time….say, 20-30 years.

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