By Justin Wastnage in London
Followers of the much-speculated US Aurora hypersonic military jet received a boost today thanks to closer reading of a recently declassified UK defence ministry report into unidentified flying objects (UFOs).
UK broadcaster BBC picked through the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in the UK Air Defence Region report, written between 1996-2000 by a Ministry of Defence intelligence expert and kept secret until last month. The broadcaster's showcase television news analysis programme Newsnight claims that although released under the country's freedom of information act, parts that remain censored lend credibility to claims that the US military has developed a cryogenic fuel-powered successor to the SR-71 Blackbird supersonic jet.
A triangular jet with top speeds of Mach 6, thought to have been dubbed Aurora at one time, has long been believed to have been developed as part of the USA's Special Access, or "black" programmes. The Aurora is likely to be have been developed by Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works for Special Access programmes, located in Groom Lake, Nevada.
Many sightings of UFOs have been spotted over Groom Lake, leading enthusiasts to identify their spottings as alien spacecraft rather than super-advanced aircraft. The Groom Lake military range is also known as Area 51.
Several sightings of the Aurora (an airtist's impression of which is pictured above) have been reported among UFO enthusiasts in the UK's sector of the North Sea, as the Special Access project team is believed to have tested the aircraft over the North Atlantic to avoid the hypersonic boom, or skyquakes, heard over the Californian Pacific coast off Los Angeles as the aircraft headed home after test sorties.
The UK government has censored what appears to be a reference to these sightings from the newly-released report. US officials have never acknowledged the existence of the programme and the UK government has routinely denied any prior knowledge of US black projects.
However Newsnight found two omissions to the censor's pen, buried deep in the UFO report, which stated that the US Air Force plans to produce "highly supersonic vehicles at M4-6" as well as hypersonic unmanned air vehicles. It also reports a USAF priority plan to produce an air-breathing aircraft with a M8-12 capability. Two photographs have been blacked out on the public version of the once-top secret report and several paragraphs of text also been crossed through
Aurora's predecessor, the SR-71, performed a series of record-setting flights in the mid-1970s including New York to London and London to Los Angeles, a distance of 8,795km (4,754nm), which the aircraft flew in 3h47min. The following video, from Lockheed Martin, shows the aircraft on public display at the 1974 Farnborough air show ahead of the flights as well as the record-breaking sortie.
See the crossed-through sections of the UK's once-secret report into UFO sightings from the BBC's Newsnight microsite.