Re: Dreamland: The Secret History of Area 51 by Peter Merlin

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Message posted by Vahe Demirjian (Member since 04/28/2022) on October 26, 2023 at 20:55:03 PST:

My copy recently shipped and will be delivered to my location in a few days. As I've said, even though the stories of flight tests of the U-2, Archangel-12, F-117, and Have Blue at Groom Lake and Tonopah Test Range have been told before in many books on the U-2, SR-71, F-117, and Area 51, the new book by Peter Merlin is the first to cover one and every military aircraft and guided missile tested at Area 51, Tonopah Test Range, Edwards Air Force Base, and a few other military bases in the western US. For instance, even though the Tacit Blue has been discussed in previous publications, Merlin shows that the Tacit Blue didn't exist in its own right and instead competed with a Lockheed flying wing design for the BSAX contract award, and he also briefly discusses the Northrop N-327 design that lost the XST contest to the Lockheed Have Blue. Moreover, new details regarding development and flight tests of the Lockheed Senior Prom and Northrop AGM/MGM-137 TSSAM stealth cruise missiles are published in this new book for the first time, especially given that Jim Goodall was told by Ben Rich in 1992 that material concerning Senior Prom was not to be published in any way for 10 years.

When dealing with the topic of the decades-long quest by the US military for a stealthy successor to the U-2 and SR-71, Merlin sheds new light on development of the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (AARS) unmanned strategic reconnaissance flying wing, which has been discussed in-depth in the 2010 monograph "Air Force UAV's: The Secret History" and briefly mentioned in the book "The Wizards of Langley", while illuminating the genesis, design, development, flight tests, and initial operational deployment of the Northrop Grumman unmanned flying wing informally called "RQ-180" and telling the story of Lockheed Martin's development of unmanned flying wings beginning with the X-44 experimental flying wing (not to be confused with the X-44 MANTA derivative of the F-22) and culminating in the RQ-170 Sentinel (the RQ-3 Darkstar was a tailless UAV but was in no way a genuine flying wing because it looked like
flying saucer with sailplane's wings attached). Given that the USAF has been largely tight-lipped concerning the "RQ-180" UAV despite the fact that the Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine was able to get hints from insiders about the existence of "RQ-180", it is quite enlightening that Merlin has relied on a December 2019 AW&ST article to help flesh out the history of flight testing and initial deployment of the "RQ-180", while revealing that the "RQ-180" owes its design heritage to one of Northrop Grumman's designs for the SensorCraft program.

Regarding the section about the ATB program, Merlin reveals that initial designs for the Lockheed Senior Peg were devised a year before Northrop started design studies for the Senior Ice/Senior Cejay, by which time the Advanced Strategic Penetrating Aircraft (ASPA) requirement was begun but not long before the start of the ATB program which prompted Lockheed and Northrop to make select revisions to their initial stealth bomber designs. As demonstrated in this book, although the final Senior Peg design had a blended wing body and somewhat less faceted appearance in order to meet stealth requirements, the Northrop proposal's aerodynamically curved airframe and lack of any vertical stabilizer ensured Northrop's victory in the ATB competition.

The new book at Area 51 may come with a somewhat hefty price tag, but with this work, Merlin at last devises a perspective of what aircraft have been tested at Area 51 and TTR since the 1970s by relying on documents that were once marked confidential, subtle statements by military officials, prior knowledge of hypersonic air-breathing development in the 1980s and 1990s, and initial editions of resumes by US Air Force test pilots listing experimental aircraft and so-called "classified prototypes" (e.g. YF-24, YF-45D, YF-113G, YF-220, X-273) among the planes flown by those pilots in Nevada and California. Many people, myself included, found it initially difficult to digest Ben Rich's passage in his memoir regarding his time at the head of the Lockheed Skunk Works in which he mentioned being told by Colonel Adelbert "Buz" Carpenter that the codename Aurora was actually applied to requested funding for procurement of the B-2 because this revelation raised questions about why the name Aurora was listed above the U-2/TR-1 line item in the February 1985 Pentagon budget document if it was a line item for funding procurement of the B-2 and whether sightings of triangular aircraft and the "donuts-on-a-rope" contrails along with the "skyquakes" seen by Bill Sweetman and a few others as tantalizing evidence for the USAF secretly deploying a hypersonic spyplane were actually created by an experimental aircraft capable of Mach 4 to 6 but also subsonic aircraft. However, after becoming aware of Adelbert Carpenter again making clear in a 2020 interview for the documentary "Black Files Declassified" about Aurora being a budget line item for requested B-2 procurement funding, but also recognizing that hypersonic air-breathing technology was in its infancy in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s after reading about flight tests of the X-43, X-51, and a 1991 scramjet test atop an SA-5 surface-to-air missile, I eventually decided to agree with Carpenter and Rich that Aurora was related to B-2 procurement funding and had nothing to do with hypersonics, and Merlin has come to the conclusion that the Pentagon wonks found it convenient to create a codename Aurora to more easily conceal the rising cost of procurement of the B-2. The development and deployment of the RQ-170 Sentinel effectively debunked rumors in the early 1990s about the non-existent "Black Manta" tactical reconnaissance flying wing because USAF officials in the late 1980s hinted that deployment of a stealthy follow-on to the TR-1 was a long way off, and one page of the new book on Area 51 implicitly hints at some technology demonstrator giving rise to rumors about the "Black Manta" by mentioning a handful of yet-to-be declassified experimental aircraft tested in the 1980s, including a tailless aircraft.

That said, I look forward to reading this book because it illuminates the truth about the kind of follow-on to the SR-71 and U-2 that the USAF and US intelligence agencies were shopping for in the 1980s, and it also encapsulating info about little-known secret drones tested in California and Nevada during the Cold War, while shedding details about flight testing of the YF-24. Anyone with a relative interest in black aircraft projects of the 1980s ought to read this book to see for themselves what Aurora really was, though Lockheed did work on proposals for a hypersonic replacement for the SR-71 in the late 1970s and 1980s.

In Reply to: Dreamland: The Secret History of Area 51 by Peter Merlin posted by Jay on October 26, 2023 at 15:54:38 PST:


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