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DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT THIS IS? AURORA SPY PLANE?

Submitted by Jake K.

This Just in 11-23-04

The plane pic submitted by Jake K. ("Does anyone know what this is?") is as follows: That plane is the rumored Aurora spy plane, which (supposedly) flies or flew at Mach 6-10 and used liquid methane as fuel. It was supposed to be the successor to the SR-71 Blackbird. There are photos of its contrail (some called it "donuts on a rope") and eyewitness accounts of its appearance and sound, "like the sky itself was being torn in half". Your picture looks like an early guess at its appearance; later versions have two engine pods on top between the tailfins along with the big scramjet scoop on the bottom. The pods were supposed to be "pulse-detonation-wave" engines, which used lasers to ignite the fuel in pulses (hence the donuts-on-a-rope contrail and the rapid popping sound Aurora supposedly made in flight). The engine assembly on the bottom (all we see is actually the airscoop/duct/nozzle assembly) supposedly housed "combined-cycle" turbo-scramjets which, like the engines on the Blackbird, operated as turbojets at low speeds and altitudes and ramjets/scramjets at full speed. (One rumor about Aurora's propulsion was that the engines had a third mode, "ducted rocket," in which at ridiculously high altitudes the inlets would be closed off entirely and internal tanks of liquid oxygen would be used.)

The scramjet engine concept was just recently proven to work by a scale aircraft launched last week. The model attained Mach 10 using internal fuel and atmospheric oxygen. The big deal about the "scramjet"
(supersonic-combustion ramjet) is that, while normal jet engines including ramjets have to slow incoming air down below the speed of sound to avoid bad shock-wave interactions that make combustion damn near impossible, the scramjet is able to combine a supersonic flow of air with fuel and burn it with no shock-wave problems.

If you look at the Aurora picture, you see that the front of the engine enclosure is shaped like a ramp or scoop. It is exactly that. It's able to shove enough air into the engines to produce enough thrust to fly (supposedly) at over Mach 6 and 100,000 feet, which the Blackbird can't do.

The rear of the enclosure is shaped like a ramp too--and it's a more interesting feature than the inlet, I think, because it's really half of a nozzle. The other (lower) half of the nozzle is formed by the shock wave produced by the rear of the very bottom of the engine enclosure (the flat part), so the nozzle as a whole is half physical body-work and half compressed air. The beauty of this is that the nozzle size automatically adjusts for best efficiency for whatever combination of altitude and airspeed the plane happens to reach.

B. Rogers.
 

DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT THIS IS? AURORA SPY PLANE?






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