The SR-91 Aurora Hypersonic spy plane would be a game change
Military planners devised a proposal in the 1980s to construct a hypersonic espionage plane capable of reaching Mach 5+, making it the fastest manned aircraft ever to fly. While prototypes have been seen, the SR-91 Aurora, if it ever existed, is unlikely to have progressed beyond the concept stage.
The project’s purpose was to produce a replacement for the aging and costly to maintain SR-71 Blackbird fleet, which costs between $200 and $300 million per year to operate. Little is known about the SR-91, which is technically designated as a Special Access Program (SAP) – a “black program” that isn’t commonly known to the public. Even the name “Aurora” was only revealed because censors missed a mention of it in a 1985 budget request that also referenced the SR-71 and U-2 programs.
In May 2006, a British Ministry of Defence study mentioned the United States Air Force’s priority plans to develop a supersonic vehicle capable of speeds of Mach 4 to 6. In the nearly 15 years since there has been significant conjecture that this could be another reference to the SR-91 Aurora, and while it is probable that this is the same program for a reconnaissance aircraft from 21 years earlier, there is just too little material to tell for sure.
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There have been a few unconfirmed sightings of what might or could not be an SR-91. The most “well-known instance” that could suggest the aircraft is real was oil-exploration engineer Chris Gibson’s sighting of a triangular aircraft over the North Sea in August 1989, but this could be a case of trying to suggest that what was sighted was a hypothetical plane rather than an existing plane like a B-2 Spirit – which does have a triangular shape and did have its first flight earlier that year.