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GIGANTIC Aviation Week story, Pentagon has been flying 2-stage orbital spaceplane throughout 1990s&#
Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Mar 8 2006, 11:04 AM
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It should be remembered that there is still -- to put it mildly -- a difference between accelerating something to Mach 5 and accelerating it to orbital velocity. It may be that AW got hold of garbled accounts of some very high-speed but suborbital unmanned reconaissance drone that could be launched from such a plane.

As for the supposed higher efficiency of "black" programs: remember that "lack of bureaucratic oversight" also leaves such programs' managers free to flush a lot more of our money away on red herrings. We have just had a dramatic reminder of this in the Duke Cunningham case; he designed his little bribery scheme to revolve around black programs, so that nobody would be aware that he was using his clout to divert Pentagon money into questionable black programs in return for personal bribes from the contractors involved.

By the way, Jeff Bell has gotten back to me on another point: how likely is it that the Pentagon would fly its most top-secret plane over Salt Lake City at 2:35 in the afternoon? "F-117 and B-2 always flew at night when they were black programs...

"All you have to do is compare the alleged vehicle with real programs. Basically, the claim is that a black program succeeded in building a manned SSTO rocketship light enough to be lifted by a modified B-70 and
small enough to fit undeneath it. The whole history of X-15, NASP, DC-X, and X-33 shows that this is impossible. A launch at Mach 3 and 100,000' just won't reduce the ~90% fuel fraction needed for ground
launch enough to allow this. Every real air-launch proposal has used multi-stage expendables carried by heavy-lift jumbo jets -- and they still only can handle small lightsats. The laws of physics are the same at Groom Lake as everywhere else.

"I'm sure that the lowly production workers cited in the article were actually working on classified programs (the reported false billing to NASP sure explains where all that money went). But people at this level are routinely fed disinformation about the real goals of projects.

"Also, it happens that the government spends large amounts of money on projects that are technically impossible. The nuclear-turbojet airplane lasted to 1961, the nuclear-ramjet cruise missile to 1964, the
nuclear-thermal rocket to 1972. All these projects were kept alive by interested politicians long after the best scientific minds had declared them worthless. Lately we have had a whole series of impossible projects
funded by DARPA like the Falcon launcher and the nuclear isomer bomb. Just because the author of this article put 2 and 2 together to make 5 doesn't mean that no such program ever existed.

"I no longer trust anything in the aerospace press. Recall that an editor at JANE'S wrote a completely insane book about the Nazis developing flying saucers powered by zero-point energy -- and AvWeek published a totally credulous article about this same imaginary technology.

"The Space Cadets will go gaga over this report. For years they have been hoping that some black program like this will someday go white and solve all our spacelift problems.'
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Bob Shaw
post Mar 8 2006, 11:09 AM
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Jim Oberg on MSNBC.Com Space News summed up the Boron fuel issue as follows:

'Another skeptical expert referred to the boron-based "fuel breakthrough."

"Boron-based fuels were the white hope of the 1950s because they have about 140 percent the energy/weight ratio of kerosene," the expert advised MSNBC.com by e-mail. "The B-70 and F-108 were designed to use them, and production plants were built. But when they actually tested the stuff, it turned out to produce combustion products that were liquid and destroyed the engines. Also, borane compounds are so poisonous they have been considered as CW [chemical weapon] agents! The whole program collapsed, and B-70 went back to kerosene."'

Oh, and the recon drones used on the SR-71 (I know, I know, but let's just call it that, OK? It's easier than skipping around between names!) were, I thought, dumped after some nasty accidents at high speed. I have a book somewhere (I think by Jay Miller) showing them lying out to dry in the USAF boneyard just down the road from Scaled Composites, so there were certainly some left!

Bob Shaw


--------------------
Remember: Time Flies like the wind - but Fruit Flies like bananas!
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paxdan
post Mar 8 2006, 11:11 AM
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QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ Mar 8 2006, 11:04 AM) *
Just because the author of this article put 2 and 2 together to make 5 doesn't mean that no such program ever existed.


i've always liked the quote that "two plus two equals five for large values of 2".
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edstrick
post Mar 8 2006, 12:41 PM
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I believe "AirCraftFilms", the companion of "SpaceCraftFilms" has a ?2? DVD boxed set on the XB-70 program. Another item in the "Want to blow some money on .... " category.
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Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Mar 8 2006, 01:27 PM
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QUOTE (Bob Shaw @ Mar 8 2006, 11:09 AM) *
Jim Oberg on MSNBC.Com Space News summed up the Boron fuel issue as follows:

'Another skeptical expert referred to the boron-based "fuel breakthrough."

"Boron-based fuels were the white hope of the 1950s because they have about 140 percent the energy/weight ratio of kerosene," the expert advised MSNBC.com by e-mail. "The B-70 and F-108 were designed to use them, and production plants were built. But when they actually tested the stuff, it turned out to produce combustion products that were liquid and destroyed the engines. Also, borane compounds are so poisonous they have been considered as CW [chemical weapon] agents! The whole program collapsed, and B-70 went back to kerosene."'


Who was that "expert" quoted by Oberg? I'll give you a hint: his initials are J.B. (That was one of his quotes that I didn't use, because I myself don't know for sure whether he's correct on that point, having no knowledge myself on the subject one way or the other.)
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ljk4-1
post Mar 8 2006, 02:49 PM
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I found this post from the FPSPACE list very interesting.

Make of it what you will. Anyone have a copy of that sketch available?

Message: 11
Date: Tue, 07 Mar 2006 10:18:52 -0600 (CST)
From: <eagle267@verizon.net>
Subject: [FPSPACE] Re: space plane
To: fpspace@friends-partners.org
Message-ID:
<22077073.1141748332547.JavaMail.root@vms063.mailsrvcs.net>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1

Thanks Jim, for posting this. There is an incident back in December 1990 when
SOyuz TM-10 was followed for half of an orbit (I think orbit 7 or 8)by a winged
vehicle....Viktor Afanasyev was filmed discussing it and he drew a picture of
the object. Later, however, in 2003, he disavowed what he said back in 1991/92
about it. He basically said he was misquoted. The object, according to the
"new interpretation" was that it was some sort of wrench. I have seen the
careful drawing by Afanasyev, and it looks like no wrench I have ever seen. It
looks like a winged vehicle. ANd while in the original discussion that it was
about 60 meters in length (forgive me, I am thinking extemporaneously, as I am
at a remote location, with none of my usual materials about me), he said later
it was 6 meters in length. I have never met a wrench six meters in length.

There is corraboratory information by one of the fpspacers in Belguim I believe,
who has been recording all air-to-ground transmits from Russian spacecraft. I
discussed this with him back in 1996 or so (forget his name) and he confirmed
that there was a great deal of discussion and some excitement from the Russians
on the crew during their transit of the ATlantic (coming off of central America)
before their craft started its traverse over Europe...

This incident could likely be the craft revealed by Aviation Week.

I myself attempted to track down more about this, and even contacted Lockheed
Martin. I got a very strange response--I sent it to the Vice Pres. of the
development division (a woman at the time), and I got the response from one of
their attorneys...LOL telling me that they weren't aware of such a craft (I had
submitted to the Veep the story and drawing by Afansyev), but even if they were,
they wouldn't be able to make any comments whatsoever.

So that's my story for the assembled today.


--------------------
"After having some business dealings with men, I am occasionally chagrined,
and feel as if I had done some wrong, and it is hard to forget the ugly circumstance.
I see that such intercourse long continued would make one thoroughly prosaic, hard,
and coarse. But the longest intercourse with Nature, though in her rudest moods, does
not thus harden and make coarse. A hard, sensible man whom we liken to a rock is
indeed much harder than a rock. From hard, coarse, insensible men with whom I have
no sympathy, I go to commune with the rocks, whose hearts are comparatively soft."

- Henry David Thoreau, November 15, 1853

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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Mar 8 2006, 04:48 PM
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QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ Mar 8 2006, 01:27 PM) *
Who was that "expert" quoted by Oberg? I'll give you a hint: his initials are J.B. (That was one of his quotes that I didn't use, because I myself don't know for sure whether he's correct on that point, having no knowledge myself on the subject one way or the other.)

Oberg using a quote from Bell that Moomaw didn't use (but knew of, of course). Perfect.

It's eerie but I just had a weird flash.
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tty
post Mar 8 2006, 11:18 PM
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[quote name='BruceMoomaw' date='Mar 8 2006, 12:04 PM' post='44581']
It should be remembered that there is still -- to put it mildly -- a difference between accelerating something to Mach 5 and accelerating it to orbital velocity. It may be that AW got hold of garbled accounts of some very high-speed but suborbital unmanned reconaissance drone that could be launched from such a plane.

As for the supposed higher efficiency of "black" programs: remember that "lack of bureaucratic oversight" also leaves such programs' managers free to flush a lot more of our money away on red herrings. We have just had a dramatic reminder of this in the Duke Cunningham case; he designed his little bribery scheme to revolve around black programs, so that nobody would be aware that he was using his clout to divert Pentagon money into questionable black programs in return for personal bribes from the contractors involved.[/quote]

On the other hand we have U-2, SR-71 and F-117...

[quote]By the way, Jeff Bell has gotten back to me on another point: how likely is it that the Pentagon would fly its most top-secret plane over Salt Lake City at 2:35 in the afternoon? "F-117 and B-2 always flew at night when they were black programs....[/quote]

B-2 was never a black program, and there has never been any restrictions on daytime flights with it. It is true that the operational F-117 squadrons flew only at night (which was what they were meant for by the way), but if you check the record you will see that most of the early test flights were done in daylight. Anything else would have been insane, and this applies to our hypothetical "DarkStar" as well. When it comes to operating a recce system You have another constraint. Since you must overfly the target when weather and lighting is suitable you have rather limited discretion about when to fly.
As for overflying Salt Lake City, aircraft occasionally do have to divert for technical or operational reasons. Both U-2 and SR-71 had to land in places they were not meant to a few times while they "were in the black".

[quote]"All you have to do is compare the alleged vehicle with real programs. Basically, the claim is that a black program succeeded in building a manned SSTO rocketship light enough to be lifted by a modified B-70 and small enough to fit undeneath it. The whole history of X-15, NASP, DC-X, and X-33 shows that this is impossible. A launch at Mach 3 and 100,000' just won't reduce the ~90% fuel fraction needed for ground
launch enough to allow this. Every real air-launch proposal has used multi-stage expendables carried by heavy-lift jumbo jets -- and they still only can handle small lightsats. The laws of physics are the same at Groom Lake as everywhere else.[/quote]

I must say don't quite follow the reasoning here. The X-15 was certainly never meant as a SSTO. The DC-X was a moderately successful technology demonstrator for control and maintenance concepts and NASP was meant to take off from the ground, which is a much more demanding mission profile, for several reasons.
The fact is that would not be very hard to build an expendable SSTO which could takeoff from the ground. As a matter of fact the Titan II first stage (which had a fantastic mass ratio of more than 20) could have lifted a small payload to orbit even back in 1962. However the achievable payload fraction is so low that it is an uneconomical way to operate unless you have a reuseable launcher, which in turn increases the vehicle weight to a point where SSTO is probably impracticable using present-day technology.

However launching at Mach 3.5 at 100,000 feet changes things quite a bit. Not only does the necessary delta V decrease by nearly 1 kms-1, there is also a number of other effects that reduce the 1.5-2.0 kms-1 required for a ground launch in addition to the orbital velocity of 7.8 kms-1.

1) Time-to-orbit is shortened, reducing the loss due to "gravity drag".

2) You start out 30 km further from the Earth's center, reducing the amount of fuel required to raise the vehicle to orbital altitude.

3) Most aerodynamic drag is eliminated.

4) The engine can be optimised for running in vacuum or near vacuum, which appreciably improves the Isp. Incidentally this militates against AW/ST hypothesis about an aerospike engine, since the main motivation for such engines are their insensitivity to atmospheric pressure changes.

5) At 30 km and Mach 3 you are well on the backside of the Q curve permitting a lighter structure (this is a bit uncertain since it depends both on what Q is reached during re-entry, and on the flight profile of the carrier aircraft).

Note that the benefits of launching from a B-747 at 50,000 and Mach 0.85 are much smaller.

[quote]"I'm sure that the lowly production workers cited in the article were actually working on classified programs (the reported false billing to NASP sure explains where all that money went). But people at this level are routinely fed disinformation about the real goals of projects.[/quote]

I probably have rather more practical experience of secret programs than JB. They don't stay secret because the people who work on them can't figure what they are doing, but because they choose not to tell what they know. Incidentally my experience (admittedly from outside the US), is that when something does leak it almost always happens "at the top", not at contractor or military unit level.

[quote]"Also, it happens that the government spends large amounts of money on projects that are technically impossible. The nuclear-turbojet airplane lasted to 1961, the nuclear-ramjet cruise missile to 1964, the nuclear-thermal rocket to 1972. All these projects were kept alive by interested politicians long after the best scientific minds had declared them worthless. Lately we have had a whole series of impossible projects funded by DARPA like the Falcon launcher and the nuclear isomer bomb.[/quote]

And the Internet....

[quote]Just because the author of this article put 2 and 2 together to make 5 doesn't mean that no such program ever existed.

"I no longer trust anything in the aerospace press. Recall that an editor at JANE'S wrote a completely insane book about the Nazis developing flying saucers powered by zero-point energy -- and AvWeek published a totally credulous article about this same imaginary technology.[/quote]

I read AW/ST regularly and on the fairly frequent occasions when I have been in a position to check on them I have found them reasonably reliable. Politically they are very much by, of and for the US military and aerospace establishment, but making allowance for this and in purely factual matters they are on the whole more trustworthy than ordinary news media.

[quote]"The Space Cadets will go gaga over this report. For years they have been hoping that some black program like this will someday go white and solve all our spacelift problems.'
[/quote]

Not me, such a spaceplane would be uneconomical compared to an ordinary ELV. But not, I think, impossible.
Strange by the way that nobody has mentioned what seems to me the most obvious problem in keeping such a spaceplane secret. The plasma trails from re-entries should be highly visible, especially at night

tty
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Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Mar 9 2006, 12:39 AM
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QUOTE (AlexBlackwell @ Mar 8 2006, 04:48 PM) *
Oberg using a quote from Bell that Moomaw didn't use (but knew of, of course). Perfect.

It's eerie but I just had a weird flash.


Very weird indeed, Alex.

As I said, I didn't use that quote from Bell because -- and only because -- it is one on which I had no idea whether or not he was right, and therefore decided not to include among the evidence he provided that I did find convincing (in destroying my own original story). I hope you're not implying that I made up all this after the fact. If you are, I'll be happy to send you a copy of Bell's original E-mail to me (and, in fact, have just sent it). You'll note one glaring error he did make -- he originally misread that eyewitness account of the plane overflight at Salt Lake City as being 2:35 AM rather than PM (because, he told me later, he had jumped to the conclusion that the sighting had to have been made at night).

By all means, however, let's hear your own opinion of the AW story at this point.
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ljk4-1
post Mar 9 2006, 03:56 PM
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It is a known fact that the CIA and USSR "supported" UFO reports
when the public spotted their secret aircraft and rocket launches.

See here:

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_..._23/ai_57533273

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/space/1282426.html

http://www.cufos.org/IUR_article3.html

These recent posts from the FPSPACE list include a link to the sketch of
the "wrench" the cosmonaut saw. If it is legit, that ain't no wrench.

Message: 9
Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2006 21:35:20 -0000
From: "satcom" <john> Subject: [FPSPACE] Re: FPSPACE Digest, Vol 25, Issue 6 To: <fpspace>
Message-ID: <000c01c6422f$08cc7130$6ed6fea9@DELLMASTER>
Content-Type: text/plain; format=flowed; charset="iso-8859-1";
reply-type=original


eagle267@verizon.net wrote.....

>Thanks Jim, for posting this. There is an incident back in December 1990
>when SOyuz TM-10 was followed for half of an orbit >(I think orbit 7 or
>8)by a winged vehicle....Viktor Afanasyev was filmed discussing it and he
>drew a picture of the object. Later, >however, in 2003, he disavowed what
>he said back in 1991/92 about it.

Is this the same incident ? *

The date quoted is 1979...and there's an image here

http://www.ufoevidence.org/cases/case392.htm

................................................................................
................................................................................
........................
*

In April of 1979, Cosmonaut Victor Afanasyev lifted off from Star City to
dock with the Soviet Solyut 6 space station. But while en route, something
strange happened. Cosmonaut Afanasyev saw an unidentified object turn toward
his craft and begin tailing it through space.

"It followed us during half of our orbit. We observed it on the light side,
and when we entered the shadow side, it disappeared completely. It was an
engineering structure, made from some type of metal, approximately 40 meters
long with inner hulls. The object was narrow here and wider here, and inside
there were openings. Some places had projections like small wings. The
object stayed very close to us. We photographed it, and our photos showed it
to be 23 to 28 meters away."

In addition to photographing the UFO, Afanasyev continually reported back to
Mission Control about the craft's size, its shape and position. When the
cosmonaut returned to earth he was debriefed and told never to reveal what
he knew, and had his cameras and film confiscated.

Those photos and his voice transmissions from space have never been
released.

It is only now, with the collapse of the Soviet Union that Afanasyev feels
that he can safely tell his story.

"It is still classified as a UFO because we have yet to identify the
object."

................................................................................
................................................................................
.......................


I think you are confusing it with the following ** , which apparently
happened in 1990.........

These incidents are widely quoted on various UFO sites as factual evidence
of little green men ohmy.gif)

John

................................................................................
................................................................................
..................

**

http://ufocasebook.com/nasafacts.html

Gennadij Strekhalov, another cosmonaut - MIR Space Station, relates:

"On the last two flights I saw something. During the flight of 1990, I
called Gennadij Manakov, our commander to come to the porthole - but we did
not manage to put a film in the camera quickly enough. We looked on
Newfoundland and the atmosphere was absolutely clear - suddenly a kind of
sphere appeared. Beautiful, shiny and glittering - I saw it for 10 seconds -
it disappeared. What was it, what size it had? I don't know, there was
nothing I could compare with - it was a perfect sphere. I reported to the
Mission Control Center, but I did not say I have seen a UFO - I said I saw a
kind of unusual phenomenon. I had to be careful with the choice of my
words - I don't want someone to speculate too much or quote me wrong".

During docking with the Russian Mir space station astronaut Musa Manarov
filmed an anomalous object, he stated: "At some point during the filming I
caught sight of something I thought had separated from the ship. however, it
was not very close, I know this because the camera was focused on infinity.
Nothing could have broken away. There were no alarms were going off. Later
there were arguments over what possibly it could have been".


------------------------------

Message: 10
Date: Tue, 7 Mar 2006 21:48:33 -0000
From: "satcom" <john> Subject: [FPSPACE] Re: FPSPACE Digest, Vol 25, Issue 6 To: <fpspace>
Message-ID: <000401c64230$e1bbc300$6ed6fea9@DELLMASTER>
Content-Type: text/plain; format=flowed; charset="iso-8859-1";
reply-type=original

Subject: [FPSPACE] Re: FPSPACE Digest, Vol 25, Issue 6


>Thanks Jim, for posting this. There is an incident back in December 1990
>when SOyuz TM-10 was followed for half of an orbit >(I think orbit 7 or
>8)by a winged vehicle....Viktor Afanasyev [ snip ]

Forgot to add.....

According to records , Viktor Afanasyev didn't fly his first mission unitl
1990.... So confusion seems to reign amongst the UFOlogy crew [ nothing new
there then ! ]


--------------------
"After having some business dealings with men, I am occasionally chagrined,
and feel as if I had done some wrong, and it is hard to forget the ugly circumstance.
I see that such intercourse long continued would make one thoroughly prosaic, hard,
and coarse. But the longest intercourse with Nature, though in her rudest moods, does
not thus harden and make coarse. A hard, sensible man whom we liken to a rock is
indeed much harder than a rock. From hard, coarse, insensible men with whom I have
no sympathy, I go to commune with the rocks, whose hearts are comparatively soft."

- Henry David Thoreau, November 15, 1853

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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Mar 9 2006, 04:55 PM
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QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ Mar 9 2006, 12:39 AM) *
I hope you're not implying that I made up all this after the fact.

Not at all. Frankly, I'm not questioning your veracity or Bell's, just your "expertise." As for Oberg, he might be a semi-expert in this matter. As for his veracity...Well, I'll refrain from commenting.

The upshot is that if I have to choose the better group of aerospace experts between Oberg/Bell/Moomaw and AW&ST, the choice for me "ain't hard." Hint: my choice has the word "Aviation" in its title.

As for the Three Blind Mice allusion, that was just needling on my part. Actually, given my estimation of Oberg's "semi-expert[ise]," one of the mice might have just worn an eye patch tongue.gif

QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ Mar 9 2006, 12:39 AM) *
By all means, however, let's hear your own opinion of the AW story at this point.

I think all three articles are speculative, as AW&ST plainly states. Frankly, it looks to me that they're just chumming the waters to see if any walk-ins have more information on the matter. Relying just on eyewitness accounts smacks of UFO sightings.
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Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Mar 9 2006, 09:17 PM
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Okay, but a magazine which (according to you) is capable of "chumming the waters" with a story which they themselves suspect may well be fake doesn't exactly strike me as a reliable "aerospace expert". (It will be interesting to see what their letter column shows in response to this story.) As for myself, I've never tried to present myself as an "expert" in any field of aerospace, except (maybe) some aspects of planetary exploration. If I did, I would have been a hell of a lot more reluctant to turn so quickly and savagely against the "GIGANTIC" story that I myself presented with such fanfare at the start of this thread.

But you still haven't answered my question: what do YOU think of the supposed technical information in the AW article, and of Bell's criticism of it? I'm not asking to be sarcastic; I am genuinely interested in what you think of this whole affair.
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Guest_AlexBlackwell_*
post Mar 9 2006, 09:32 PM
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QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ Mar 9 2006, 09:17 PM) *
Okay, but a magazine which (according to you) is capable of "chumming the waters" with a story which they themselves suspect may well be fake doesn't exactly strike me as a reliable "aerospace expert".

I can't really believe you're questioning the expertise and reliability of AW&ST, even if you disbelieve their Blackstar articles. Here's an interesting experiment: lay down, side by side, a typical article from AW&ST, you, Jeff Bell, and Jim Oberg. I don't know about anyone else, but it wouldn't take me a long time to pick out the real "aerospace expert[s]."

QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ Mar 9 2006, 09:17 PM) *
As for myself, I've never tried to present myself as an "expert" in any field of aerospace, except (maybe) some aspects of planetary exploration.

OK, Bruce. Sure.

QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ Mar 9 2006, 09:17 PM) *
But you still haven't answered my question: what do YOU think of the supposed technical information in the AW article, and of Bell's criticism of it? I'm not asking to be sarcastic; I am genuinely interested in what you think of this whole affair.

As I said, it was an interesting article, and I read it for what it was (and what AW&ST claimed it to be). That's all.
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Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Mar 10 2006, 05:24 AM
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QUOTE (AlexBlackwell @ Mar 9 2006, 09:32 PM) *
OK, Bruce. Sure.


It's true. I've certainly never dared compare myself to Aviation Week -- which is exactly why I jumped to the conclusion that they must know what they were talking about when they released this story, until Bell raised those points about fuel-to-payload ratio and ICBM warning satellites, which I still find hard to counter.

I've just seen the other two AW stories on this in their March 6 issue, which unfortunately don't seem to me to provide any more information that would point toward an overall verdict on the story's veracity -- although they've certainly got enough witnesses to suggest that SOMETHING is going on. Could it be that we've actually got an improved version of those Mach 5, relatively low-altitude drones that Greg M was talking about -- specifically, a high-speed drone that returns to base automatically for reuse rather than being disposable (which, according to Greg, is what caused them to cancel the earlier drones as not cost-effective)?
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Bob Shaw
post Mar 10 2006, 09:46 AM
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From Wikipedia:

"One notable variant of the basic A-12 design was the M-21. This was a A-12 platform modified by replacing the single seat aircraft's Q bay, which carried its main camera to a second cockpit for a launch control officer. The M-21 was used to carry and launch the D-21 drone, an unmanned, faster and higher flying reconnaissance device. This variant was known as the M/D-21 when mated to the drone for operations. The D-21 drone was completely autonomous; having been launched it would overfly the target, travel to a rendezvous point and eject its data package. The package would be recovered in midair by a C-130 Hercules and the drone would self destruct.

The program to develop this system was canceled in 1966 after a drone collided with the mother ship at launch, destroying the M-21 and killing the Launch Control Officer. Three successful test flights had been conducted under a different flight regime; the fourth test was in level flight, considered an operational likelihood. The shock wave of the M-21 retarded the flight of the drone, which crashed into the tailplane. The crew survived the mid-air collision but the LCO drowned when he landed in the ocean and his flight suit filled with water.

The only surviving M-21 is on display, along with a D-21B Drone, at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. The D-21 was adapted to be carried on wings of the B-52 bomber."

And:

"The Q-12 design was finalized in October 1963. An air-launched vehicle, it was powered by a single Marquardt RJ43-MA-11 ramjet, and used key technology from the A-12 project, including titanium construction. Its double-delta wing was similar to the A-12's outer wing design.

In late 1963, the project was named Tagboard and the Q-12 was re-designated D-21 while the A-12 became M-21 (D- for "daughter" and M- for "mother") to prevent confusion between Tagboard and the Blackbird family, which spawned from the A-12 design.

Testing

The D-21 mounted on the back of the M-21 - Photo: LockheedThe M-21/D-21 combination began captive flight-testing in December 1964, continuing through 1965. Aerodynamic covers that were in place over the intake and exhaust were removed after the first few tests, as it was unable to drop them at Mach 3 without damaging the M-21 and/or D-21. Increased drag caused by the removal was overcome by using the D-21's ramjet as a third engine.

The first launch of the D-21 from the back of the M-21 occurred successfully on March 5, 1966, followed by two others on April 27 and June 16 of that year. The fourth and final launch occurred a month later on July 30. The D-21 impacted with the M-21's tail immediately after separation, leading to the crash of both aircraft and the death of one of the two M-21 crewmembers. Due to this accident, the M-21/D-21 combination program was terminated.

The D-21B mounted under a B-52H - Photo: LockheedAn alternate method of launch had already been proposed before the ill-fated flight, as the M-21/D-21 launch procedure was known to be risky. A modified D-21 would be launched from an under-wing pylon on a B-52H. The Tagboard drone had to use a large solid-propellant rocket booster to accelerate to the target speed before igniting the ramjet, as the B-52 had a much slower speed.

The modified drone was designated D-21B - although there was no -21A version - and all D-21s on order in mid-1966 were completed as D-21Bs. Two B-52Hs were modified to carry two drones each and could communicate with the D-21Bs, which had improved remote control links that remained active up to 10 minutes into the mission.

Initial testing began in September 1967 and went on until July 1969, and was not very successful for some time. The first flight ended with the drone falling off the wing of the B-52 before even reaching the launching area. Not until the last two flights, having recovered the camera hatch after the drone had covered more than 5370 km (2900 nm), did the B-52H/D-21B system get declared ready for operational missions.

Operational Use
Four operational missions took place under the name SENIOR BOWL, from November 9, 1969 to March 20, 1971, all over the People's Republic of China to spy on the Lop Nor nuclear test site. Only two drones completed the flight, and system malfunctions prevented the recovery of the reconnaissance camera. Due to the poor level of success and the introduction of a new generation of photoreconnaissance satellites, the Tagboard project was cancelled in July 1971.

In the end, 38 D-21/D-21B drones were built. Twenty-one were expended in tests and missions, and the remaining 17 vehicles were placed in permanent storage and redesignated as GTD-21B. Since the mid-1990s, they have been released to museums for display."

________________________________________________________________________


There certainly *were* other airframes at the boneyard as I posted previously, though I now suspect it was the D-21B we were seeing there.

So: High speed UAVs *did* exist 35 years ago, and it is entirely reasonable to assume that a black project using modernised vehicles could exist today. A fast-dash/loitering mothership followed by a Mach 3 pass over a target (or onto a target, perhaps more likely) is perfectly credible. A recon variant (these days) might well be autonomous enough to autoland at a designated AFB, preferably well away from prying eyes (Diego Garcia sounds like just the place for both the mothership and it's baby to head for after a run over President Bush's Favourite Places). Note from above the problems with an air-launch from the upper surface of the SR-71, as compared to the more-or-less routine business of dropping things from the belly of aircraft.

Which leads us to *why*?

The argument goes that satellites can do a better job, and more cheaply. For routine recon this is very true. The key to this matter, though, is in the nature of satellites themselves. Even stealthy satellites are now routinely tracked from the ground by amateurs. Software to predict passages over any particular spot is readily available. So, the Bad Guys™ can simply wait until no birds are visible and then move about with impunity. So, what would *I* do if I was trying to remove 'em from the board? I'd lull them into a false sense of security with regular satellite passes, then catch the blighters via a recon UAV, then call in the very fast things that go bang. Of course, it's bad news for anyone else attending that particular wedding party, but Bush & Co are prepared to take the risk.

So, there you have it: a perfectly credible scenario for a pointy thing to be seen hanging below a fast aircraft!


Bob Shaw


--------------------
Remember: Time Flies like the wind - but Fruit Flies like bananas!
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