The name Aurora invokes awe in the aerospace industry. It’s a Mach-6 hypersonic aircraft that nobody’s sure exists. The technology for it was developed back in the 70’s using hypersonic wind-tunnel experiments conducted by Paul Czysz. Later on, he took that research to the Reagan administration’s NASP project, with the goal of developing a hypersonic “Orient Express” capable of traveling from New York to Tokyo in 2 hours. However, NASP research was too expensive so the government shut it down – or did they?
Rumors about a secret hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft started in the early 90’s, and by ’95 even Popular Science was publishing articles on hypersonic spyplanes. The name on everybody’s lips was “Aurora”, a hypersonic aircraft capable of Mach 6, which was supposedly the replacement for the SR-71, although everybody denied it. I’d never met anyone with more than a guess as to whether the hypersonic Aurora spyplane was real until I met Professor Paul Czsyz. He doesn’t know for sure, but he thinks it is.
“It could exist. There’s no magic required to build it. I was convinced that the group I was with at McDonnell-Douglas in the mid-60’s could have built it back then. We built two hypersonic aircraft models for Mel Buck over at Wright-Patterson that we tested for pressure measurements, force measurements, and thermal mapping to get the heat-transfer rates. Those models went in every tunnel we could find – from the low-speed tunnels all the way up to the Mach-6 and 8 hypersonic tunnels.
In ’66 I joined the advanced design group over at McDonnell, and one of the projects that I was working on was a Mach 6 hypersonic vehicle that would fly unrefueled in a combat situation about 1,500 nautical miles, with about a 4,000 nautical mile overall range. There were a couple of different versions of it – one was to shoot down submarine launched ballistic missiles launched off the coast of the United States, and the other one was essentially to interdict soviet ships that were coming through the GIUK gap.
If it was built: that’s the big question. I’ve had strange calls in the evening by people who were telling me, ‘I used to work with you, and I’m standing next to the aircraft that you’d recognize’, and then they hung up. I think the rumor mill is probably right about Aurora.” – Professor Paul Czysz