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SR-91 Aurora: Mach 5 Hypersonic Spy Plane or Myth?

SR-91 Aurora
SR-91 Aurora, artist rendition. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

In the 1980s an idea was conceived by military planners to develop a hypersonic spy plane that could reach Mach 5+, making it truly the fastest manned aircraft ever to fly. While there have been reported sightings of the prototypes, the SR-91 Aurora, if it even existed, likely never made it much best the concept stage.

The goal of the project was to develop a replacement for the aging and expensive to maintain a fleet of SR-71 Blackbirds, which cost around $200 – $300 million a year to operate. Technically known as a Special Access Program (SAP) – a “black program” that isn’t generally for public knowledge – little has been released about the SR-91. Even the name “Aurora” was only disclosed when censors failed to catch a reference to it a 1985 budget request that also discussed the state of the SR-71 and U-2 programs.

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More recently in May 2006, a British Ministry of Defence report referred to the U.S. Air Force priority plans to produce a supersonic vehicle that could reach speeds of Mach 4 to 6. There has been much speculation in the nearly 15 years since that this may have been another reference to the SR-91 Aurora, and while it seems plausible this is the same program for a reconnaissance aircraft from 21 years prior, there is simply too little information to know for certain.

SR-91 Aurora

SR-91 Aurora, artist rendition. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Does It or Doesn’t It?

The most lingering question is whether the military actually produced even a prototype of the SR-91 Aurora. There is almost no evidence to suggest it had.

According to there have been a couple of unverified sightings of what may or may not have been an SR-91. The most “well-known instance” that could suggest the aircraft is real was the sighting of a triangular aircraft over the North Sea in August 1989 by oil-exploration engineer Chris Gibson, but this could be a case of trying to suggest that what was sighted was a hypothetical plane rather than an existing aircraft such as a B-2 Spirit – which certainly has a triangular shape and did in fact have its first flight earlier that year.

A more likely answer could have been that the triangular-shaped aircraft was a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk, which had been tested by the RAF in the late 1980s.

In the accounts little is noted about speed and if the aircraft were traveling at Mach 5 it would have been hard to even determine its shape, while there is also no reason to suggest why a prototype of a truly top-secret aircraft was flying slow enough and low enough to be witnessed over the North Sea. Wouldn’t there have been a danger that Soviet aircraft, submarines or other vessels would have seen such a plane?

Moreover, where would a prototype aircraft take off from and then land? The North Sea isn’t exactly a remote body of water so it would seem a rather unlikely place to test an advanced aircraft.

The only other notable “evidence” of the existence of the SR-91 is that “sky quakes” were reported to have been heard at times over Los Angeles – and while those could be from aircraft operating out of Groom Lake (aka Area 51) in Nevada, there is little to suggest it was the Aurora.

It has also been speculated that Lockheed’s Skunk Works, now the Lockheed Advanced Development Company, could have been the prime contractor for such project – but to date almost nothing has been released that indicated there was even a project for such an aircraft. Given these facts, the Aurora is little more than enigma at this point.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.



  1. Curtis Conway

    January 23, 2021 at 3:49 pm

    Chris Gibson saw something that was a bit larger than an F-111, and pointier than a B-2. That is NOT an F-117 Nighthawk. Tanking over the North Sea in an existing tanker track is not that unusual, and refueling operations do not take place at Mach 5. Most folks don’t look up, and this is over water. The air quakes like clock work, and donuts on a rope exhaust trail is NOT made by any known aircraft. Keep guessing.
    This article looks a lot like a paid for miss information campaign.

  2. Bob S

    January 23, 2021 at 6:46 pm

    Two problems with this article. The author’s premise – that there is a “special access” “SR-91 Aurora” program – is not supported. That info alone puts it into the white world. A true unacknowledged program does not reveal anything about its existence: classification, codeword, designation or any other detail. Secondly, the “aurora” name came from a DoD budget line item in Northrop’s ATB (B-2) program. Finally it’s highly unlikely an expensive program of this nature could remain black for 30+ years through five Presidents, and that it has taken this long to apply such cutting-edge technology to the current program (which is not black). It seems to me this flying prototype is all just a bit of speculation by those who want it to be true.
    BTW: The Lockheed Advanced Development Company was in existence from 1955 to 1995, when Lockheed merged with Martin Marietta to become the Lockheed Martin Corporation. Skunks Works is the trademarked name of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company’s Palmdale, CA operation.

  3. david

    January 24, 2021 at 12:00 am

    We heard those crazy sonic quakes all the way in Maine. I checked the news right after and they were reported coast to coast (in a fairly strait line. you could almost chart the flight of whatever it was.) So I think whatever we were testing is extremely fast and long range. The sound was so different i think a novel propulsion system is in the works.

    Anyway its all speculation until we blow someone up with it.

  4. Berkson

    January 24, 2021 at 1:28 pm

    In 1989 I saw it fly a few hundred feet over the Sedona airport mesa heading due west. I only saw the rear but it was much larger than a fighter and had 6 rectangular exhausts.

  5. Joe Sloan

    January 26, 2021 at 12:35 am

    Please look at the Federal Register and use your platform to alert the public to a major United States vulnerability. In May 2020, Trump signed Executive Order #13920-Securing the US Bulk-Power System. This was classified as a national emergency order. Biden’s 1st Executive Order (#13990) suspends this order for 90 days (see Section 7, c). Why would this emergency national security item be “immediately” suspended? Does China or Russia have a window of opportunity to devastate this country?

  6. Airwolfe73

    January 28, 2021 at 8:38 am

    The government hides so much from the GP, not too much is know of the TR-3B, but I am sure she is for real, the folks at the Skunk Works, are always far ahead of anybody else, when that photo was taken withe F-111’s an the triangle aircraft it didn’t look like it was photoshoped, Plus the guy that seen it, was a expert in recolizing that sort of thing, I am looking forward, if I am still around to full disclosure to the ufo’s from outerspace to come out.

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