From a spotter in some other forum. Thought it would be interesting here.First a point I'd like to make – very important point actually. At no time has any serving member of the UK (or any other nations) Armed Forces spoken to, engaged in, or in any way assisted us on our project. It has been done exclusively by civilians who have acted within the laws of the United Kingdom at all times – this includes remaining on public land / waters for all excursions. (Please note also that the photos clearly are not the originals nor high resolution and the hi res will never become available either. Reason being that this wasn't an exercise based in malice / monetary gain in any way shape or form).
The second point I'd like to draw to peoples attention is that for many decades it has been proven beyond all doubt that the CIA, NSA, NRO and all other agencies protect their SAP (Special Access Projects) behind a wall of obfuscation and deceit, and since the 'U-2' and A-12 (later to become SR-71) they have used the field of ufology as an effective counter intelligence firewall. The murkier the better as far as these agencies are concerned, and for us it is a validation of the fact that this area is a very valid research tool if you are selective about the materials you gather.
It was after years (literal years) of sifting, sieving, discarding, interviewing and traveling to follow the most promising leads we got a focus target area. This was the 'Black Triangles' mystery – and what a can of worms. There is enough material in that alone to chase a potential 8 in test / operational vehicles of varying forms / uses. However the work served a purpose and funneled us downwards to the core of what we wanted to investigate. I am sure many are familiar with the topic.
What appeared after a time was a very resounding pattern.
Cornwall – Mysterious sonic booms shaking windows and high altitude lights heading towards Wales.
Wales – high altitude black triangles rushing over head with a single strobing red light light on the underside. North Wales sightings were of particular clarity.
Scotland. The cluster of sightings and audio reports from here was astounding in detail, witness integrity and sheer numbers. Reports ranged from 'Space shuttles with snubbed noses' , 'Massive 'S' shaped curves being carved in the skies', night time 'express trains' roaring through the air and the sudden rash of 'Low level Tornado flights deep in the night along side a deeper more rumbling engine sound heading East'. Girvan, Stranraer, they all started to trickle in reports. Oh one snippet from a report of interest from 2008 - “If a C-17 goes low westward in the day time over Girvan wheels down, its an absolute100% caste iron guarantee of a night time rumbling roaring sound”. We are not sure why this is so urgent unless its bringing in fuel / fresh crews or other needed items for the mission but it actually did assist us some what.
Pattern became clear enough – It comes in high, very high over Cornwall, gets lower over wales and hits Scotland at altitudes low enough to be visible. We decided we should start to organize a hill walking holiday.
Then the tragic events of 9-11 in New York and the Global War On Terror. Fast Black triangles and air quakes didn't just hit the UK any longer – they moved down the eastern coast of the UK and started to creep across Europe, into eastern Europe and aimed right at the middle east.
Eye witnesses from the North Sea into Europe once again reported an extreme fast ' black arrow head with a single red light' and the characteristic shaking windows. Further into Europe it again became a single extreme speed pulsing red light and no noise. Climbs to altitude and races off is our boys signature and we knew it had in all probability gone from test article / dust off research craft to fully pressed into use – but we had no concrete sightings in the ME or Afghanistan.
Then pay dirt dropped into our laps.
First the grape vine started to rumble with rumors of a very unusual airframe making sporadic stops in Afghanistan.
What ever this was it came in with zero engine noise onto a blacked out runway – just a rush of air and thumping heavy landing. On take off it sounded like a 'B-1b with an attitude problem' – again though when it lifted off it was on an all blacked out runway.
Then a Civilian in Afghanistan was taking photos of the stars in long exposure, and there it was – the single fading in and out red light crossing the skies. Taking the exposure length we knew it then.
If it was a test article, it was now operational and we knew for certain why the black triangle low level sightings had it as silent; it is, but only when landing approach is being made.
With both Afghanistan and Iraq wars in full swing, it was no longer a case of one off rare sightings / audio reports. So with our eclectic mix of fishermen, sailing enthusiasts and astronomers we sat and planned a few away days. Birdwatchers were welcome as they knew some really arcane spots to set up house for a few hours.
The key locations thus getting a good smattering of eyes on, we suddenly found another (albeit unwitting) helper. The Royal Air Force started flying interference. They provided the final clue we needed.
From early 2009, If a Tornado smashed westwards between 01:30 to 05:00 hrs it was a thirty minute heads up to a sighting in Girvan and surrounding locations. It would also dash back to the East coast at low level creating one hell of a noise. We just had to be there when it happened.
Air quake in Cornwall? Call up the line to Wales. They see lights heading North? Well you get the idea. Tonka outbound too? Thank. You. Very. Much.
Hope you like the montage. Yes the engines are mounted above the wings, yes the hull is a flattened shallow 'V', and it indeed has a single tail not a pair unlike the SR-71. (The pictures are free to share / use but please remember they are low res for a very valid reason – the underside thermal protection system and hull shape is unique and we agreed that for the time being is should stay under wraps. We were not looking to damage any assets, just to find them).
The picture on the top left shows the shovel nose to perfection and the top right is one of the rarer out at sea 'Space shuttle like' 's' curves and airframe re-entry like flight profile. These really were baffling and the last reported sighting was yesterday evening (28th Feb. 2011).#1
Is it loud? Ungodly bastards yes it is. Is it fast? Jaw dropping acceleration into the night sky. Does it land in silence? Yes it does.
I saved the best till last.
It might have two of the biggest loudest jet engines I have ever heard that fling it skywards, but theres a third engine on board – the ear splitting roar? Its a rocket engine. Yes you read that right – the airframe climbs into the dark sky and away, then a sudden 'pop – rolling boom followed by a deep bass rumbling' and the bright exhaust signature Sprints into the night.
If you do hunt it, take a stop watch. The numbers are beautiful.
Thats all folks – a twin seat manned high speed aircraft getting lots of use – airframe numbers are low, 6 at the very most from sighting frequency / locations but they getting lots of air time. If you think all this is pie in the skies? Well heres a little snippet to digest from a long time ago when the mighty Black bird was still airborne.
Some years later, I was talking with a fellow test pilot named Rogers Smith, who at the time was flying the SR-71 at NASA Dryden. He related a story about flying from Edwards to White Sands and back. He asked his back seater, flight test engineer Marta Bohn-Meyer, to see what the controllers at White Sands were showing as their ground speed and altitude. The controller replied that they were at 3500 feet per second and 129,000 feet. Both Rogers and Marta knew that wasn’t correct. When asked again, the rather flustered controller replied, 2450 feet per second and 81,500 feet. They both knew that there was another flight above them, using their flight as a cover for a classified program.
These aero braking maneuvers threw us at first until we looked at the data again. On rare occasions during the day time they approach from the North Atlantic seaboard and it starts at 80+ miles out – fishermen after all too busy to watch the skies right? they simply sneak in. Risky I know, but who is listening out for a gliding airframe?
Inboard views of the SERJ-equipped X-15
Artists impression of the SERJ equipped X-15
An unpublished brochure reveals the design of a proposed massive modification to the X-15. The Marquardt Company had by the time of this brochure been studying the ejector ramjet for several years. This propulsion system used a large number of small rocket engines to pump a ramjet; this allowed the ramjet to be used at very low airspeed, all the way up to Mach 4+ at extreme altitude. A supercharged ejector ramjet added a turbine fan upstream of the ejector rockets. The turbine was powered by a secondary gas generator, and would increase thrust at lower speeds and altitudes. Having the turbine in the airflow would limit the engine to about Mach 4 or a little more; more complicated SERJ designs were produced which would allow the turbine to rotate out of the airflow, permitting even greater speeds.
Marquardt at this time envisioned the use of SERJ engines in everything from point defense interceptors to tactical fighters to strike/recon and strategic penetrators. Marquardt expected that post-1975, Mach 4 would be a necessity. In order to flight-test the engine, it was proposed to modify an X-15 to incorporate a SERJ engine. This engine would replace the XLR-99, and would require some substantial changes:
A large ventral inlet
A re-shaped ventral fin
Revised main skid landing gear
Altered propellant tanks
The SERJ engine would burn JP fuel and hydrogen peroxide oxidizer, eliminating the need for cryogenic equipment. The modified X-15 would be carried to altitude beneath the wing of the existing B-52 carrier plane. No in-flight oxidizer topping would be needed. Due to the deep throttling capability of the SERJ engine, it could be started while still attached to the carrier aircraft pylon.
North American had produced designs of a stretched and delta winged X-15 (the middle design). Marquardt expected that this aircraft could also be equipped with a SERJ engine, producing greater performance. Further improvements still could be had by stretching the delta X-15, and adding a second crewman. Performance enhancement was not in speed or altitude, but in duration. An aircraft beyond this would be a truly operational military vehicle.
On January 1, 1957, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission selected the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) predecessor, the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, to study the feasibility of applying heat from nuclear reactors to ramjet engines. This research became known as "Project Pluto". The work was directed by Dr. Ted Merkle, leader of the laboratory's R-Division.
Originally carried out at Livermore, California, the work was moved to new facilities constructed for $1.2 million on 8 square miles (21 km2) of Jackass Flats at the NTS, known as Site 401. The complex consisted of 6 miles (10 km) of roads, critical assembly building, control building, assembly and shop buildings, and utilities. Also required for the construction was 25 miles (40 km) of oil well casing which was necessary to store the approximately 1,000,000 pounds (450,000 kg) of pressurized air used to simulate ramjet flight conditions for Pluto.
The principle behind the nuclear ramjet was relatively simple: motion of the vehicle pushed air in through the front of the vehicle (ram effect), a nuclear reactor heated the air, and then the hot air expanded at high speed out through a nozzle at the back, providing thrust.
The notion of using a nuclear reactor to heat the air was fundamentally new. Unlike commercial reactors, which are surrounded by concrete, the Pluto reactor had to be small and compact enough to fly, but durable enough to survive a 7,000-mile (11,000 km) trip to a potential target. The nuclear engine could, in principle, operate for months, so a Pluto cruise missile could be left airborne for a prolonged time before being directed to carry out its attack.
The success of this project would depend upon a series of technological advances in metallurgy and materials science. Pneumatic motors necessary to control the reactor in flight had to operate while red-hot and in the presence of intense radiation. The need to maintain supersonic speed at low altitude and in all kinds of weather meant the reactor, code named "Tory", had to survive high temperatures and conditions that would melt the metals used in most jet and rocket engines. Ceramic fuel elements would have to be used; the contract to manufacture the 500,000 pencil-sized elements was given to the Coors Porcelain Company.
The proposed use for nuclear-powered ramjets would be to power a cruise missile, called SLAM, for Supersonic Low Altitude Missile. In order to reach ramjet speed, it would be launched from the ground by a cluster of conventional rocket boosters. Once it reached cruising altitude and was far away from populated areas the nuclear reactor would be turned on. Since nuclear power gave it almost unlimited range, the missile could cruise in circles over the ocean until ordered 'down to the deck' for its supersonic dash to targets in the Soviet Union. The SLAM as proposed would carry a payload of many nuclear weapons to be dropped on multiple targets, making the cruise missile into an unmanned bomber.
On May 14, 1961, the world's first nuclear ramjet engine, "Tory-IIA," mounted on a railroad car, roared to life for a few seconds. Three years later, "Tory-IIC" was run for five minutes at full power. Despite these and other successful tests the Pentagon, sponsor of the "Pluto project," had second thoughts. The weapon was considered "too provocative", and it was believed that it would compel the USSR to construct a similar device against which there was no known defense. Intercontinental ballistic missile technology had proven to be more easily developed than previously thought, reducing the need for such highly capable cruise missiles. On July 1, 1964, seven years and six months after it was started, "Project Pluto" was canceled.
The Societa Aeronautica Italiana Ing. A. Ambrosini (better known as
S.A.I.) SS-4 was a single-seat experimental interceptor designed by
the engineer Sergio Stefanutti. It was the first warplane in history
having a "canard" or tail-first configuration actually to fly.
It was powered by a 960 hp Isotta Fraschini Asso XI RC-40 12-cylinder
liquid-cooled inverted-V engine driving a 3-bladed propeller in a
pusher configuration. This canard/pusher configuration offered a
reduction in propeller slipstream effects on drag, as well as
improved visibility plus the possibility of mounting a heavier and
more-concentrated forward-firing armament. Armament was to consist
of a pair of 20-mm cannon, plus a single 30-mm cannon.
The SS-4 made its first flight on May 1, 1939. The initial flight
tests were encouraging. The plane displayed good stability and
handling characteristics. However, the prototype was destroyed in
an emergency landing necessitated by an engine failure. The Italian
Air Ministry actually ordered that a second prototype be built, but
owing to the higher priority assigned to the S. A. I. outfit's
Model 207 lightweight fighter, it later cancelled the order for the
second prototype and all further work on the SS-4 was abandoned.
The projected second prototype was never constructed.
The S.A.I. SS-4 achieved a maximum speed of 335 mph at 16,400 feet
Kyushu J7W1 Shinden (Magnificent Lightning)
The J7W1 Shinden was the only aircraft of canard configuration to
be ordered into quantity production during the Second World War.
The Shinden was a short-range interceptor conceived by the Yokosuka
Air Technical Depot early in 1943. The Japanese Naval Air Service
accepted the fighter right off the drawing board, and laid plans for
mass production by the Kyushu Hikoki K. K., as well as by the
Handa factory of Nakajima. Kyushu began the construction of two
prototypes in June 1944.
The low-mounted wing was swept back at an angle of 15 degrees. Small
vertical rudders were mounted on each wing trailing edge at
approximately half-chord. The horizontal tail was mounted on the
forward nose. The fully-retractable landing gear was of tricycle
configuration, and there were small auxiliary wheels mounted at the base
of each of the vertical rudders to prevent accidental damage during
landings. Power was provided by a 2130 hp Mitsubishi Ha.43-42 18-
cylinder radial air-cooled engine driving a six-bladed propeller in
pusher configuration. The engine was fed by two large intakes on
either side of the fuselage, just behind the cockpit. Armament was
to be a quartet of 30-mm cannon in the nose. In addition, a small
bombload could be carried.
The first prototype took to the air on August 3, 1945. Initial flight
tests were encouraging, although there were some problems with a
torque pull to the right as well as a flutter of the pusher prop.
However, the capitulation of Japan on August 14 brought the Shinden
program to an abrupt end and the second prototype was never flown.
Estimated maximum speed (which I don't think was ever achieved in
tests) was 466 mph at 28,540 feet. Time to climb to 26,250 feet was
10 minutes 40 seconds, and service ceiling was 39,000 feet.
Production of the Shinden was to have reached a monthly rate of 150
per month had the war continued on into 1946 and 1947. A J7W2 version
powered by a 1984 lb. st. Ne-130 turbojet was also planned.
After the Japanese surrender, the second prototype was dismantled and
shipped to the United States. I don't know if it was ever evaluated
in tests, and I am unaware of its final fate. Presumably it was
scrapped, along with most of the other captured Japanese aircraft which
had been brought back after the war.
Curtiss XP-55 Ascender
The Curtiss XP-55 was strictly speaking not a "true" canard, since it
had no fixed forward surface. It was, in fact, a "flying wing" with a
controllable nose-mounted elevator. The design originated in response
to a "circular proposal" issued by the U. S. Army in 1940 which
requested submissions of unorthodox fighter designs. Curtiss submitted
a swept-wing pusher design to be powered by the as-yet-unbuilt 2200 hp
Pratt and Whitney X-1800-A3G engine. The design, known by the company
as CW-24, promised enhanced pilot visibility, more concentrated nose-
mounted armament, and a considerable reduction in overall aerodynamic
drag in comparison to more conventional designs. In addition to
Curtiss, Vultee and Northrop also submitted designs in response to the
Army's circular proposal, which were eventually to emerge as the
XP-54 and XP-56 respectively.
The Vultee XP-54 came in first in the competition, with the Curtiss
design coming in second. In June of 1940, the Curtiss-Wright Corp.
received a contract for a powered wind tunnel model of their design.
But the Army was not satisfied with the data gathered, and Curtiss
decided to build a full-scale flying test model with its own funds in
order to check out the viability of the basic concept. This aircraft,
given the company designation CW-24B, was powered by a 275 hp Menasco
C-65-5 engine and had a fabric-covered, welded steel-tube fuselage and a
wooden wing. The landing gear was fixed.
The CW-24B was shipped to the Muroc Dry Lake and made its first flight
on December 2, 1941. As expected, the aircraft was underpowered, but
it did confirm the basic feasibility of the design. However, tests
did uncover some directional instability. These problems were addressed
by the addition of vertical fins above and below the engine cowling
on the rear fuselage. Various types of auxiliary wingtip fins were
also fitted. The aircraft was given the Army serial number 42-39347,
but kept its company designation of CW-24B. Nearly 200 test flights
were made. These flight tests apparently satisfied the Army
that the basic concept was valid, and in July 1942 they ordered three
prototypes of the CW-24 fighter design under the designation XP-55.
The Pratt and Whitney X-1800 engine never materialized, and it was
decided to switch the XP-55 to the 1275 hp Allison V-1710-95 liquid-
cooled engine. Nose armament was to consist of four 0.50 cal machine
The first XP-55 (42-78845) took to the air for the first time on
July 19, 1943 from the Army's Scott Field (near Curtiss's St Louis
plant). Stability problems appeared almost from the very start of
flight testing. An excessive takeoff run necessitated a 15 percent
increase in nose elevator area, and the aileron up trim was inter-
connected with the flaps so that it operated when these were lowered.
An even more serious problem was encountered when the first prototype
was subjected to stalling tests. On one of these tests, the aircraft
went completely out of control during the stall, the pilot being
forced to abandon the plane and parachute to safety. 78845 was
destroyed in the ensuing crash.
Subsequent investigations suggested that the stalling characteristics
could be markedly improved by increasing the wingspan by four feet and
by providing for a greater amount of forward elevator travel.
However, the second prototype (42-78846) was too far advanced along
the production line for these changes to be incorporated, and it
had to be test flown under very strict rules severly limiting all
The third prototype (42-78847) incorporated the extended wingtips and
the increased forward elevator travel and flew for the first time on
April 25, 1944. It was the first of the XP-55s to be fitted with the
quartet of machine guns. After some further refinements, stall tests
were finally successfully passed. However, the stalling characteristics
were still somewhat problematic; stall would often come virtually
without warning, and the aircraft dropped quite a large distance before
level flight could be resumed. This resulted in the introduction of
an artificial stall warning device. In addition, there were serious
engine cooling problems which were never fully resolved.
The XP-55 achieved a maximum speed of 390 mph at 19,300 feet and could
climbed to 20,000 feet in 7.1 minutes. Service ceiling was 34,600
feet. These performance figures compared unfavorably with those of
other fighters already in service. The relatively poor performance of
the XP-55, along with its bad stalling characteristics and questionable
stability, made it apparent to the Army that the design could never
be made into a useful combat aircraft, and further development of the
XP-55 was terminated.
I am unaware of what happened to the two surviving XP-55s. Presumably
they were scrapped at the end of the war.
War Planes of the Second World War, William Green, Doubleday, 1961.
Japanese Aircraft of the Pacific War, Rene Francillon, Naval Institute
Curtiss Aircraft 1907-1947, Peter M. Bowers, Naval Institute Press,