For latest spy plane look under your tree

December 25, 1993|By Orange County Register

Want to sneak a peek at the super-secret spy plane causing mysterious sonic booms in the skies over the western United States?

Try your local hobby shop. Or under the Christmas tree.

That's where you'll find the SR-75 Penetrator and XR-7 Thunderdart, the latest in a series of highly speculative military miniature models put out by Testor Corp., of Rockford, Ill.

The jets would be little more than plastic-and-glue flights of fancy were it not for the company's track record. In 1986, Testor debuted the F-19, which it said resembled the Stealth fighter flying secret missions over Nevada.

The Air Force denied the existence of such a jet. But when the F-117 Stealth went public a few years later, the Testor-designed plane wasn't far off the mark. Testor sold more than 1 million F-19 kits, making it the biggest-selling model of all time.

Asked about Testor's new SR-75 and XR-7 kits, Air Force officials throw up their hands and roll their eyes.

"We're not saying no comment -- we're saying such a plane does not exist," said Capt. Mary Dillon, an Air Force spokeswoman in Washington.

Speculation over a new spy jet zoomed in February 1991, when the Air Force inexplicably retired the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance jet, holder of the world's speed record of 2,130 mph. Why mothball the best spy plane in the world if the Air Force didn't already have a replacement?

Since 1991, Orange County, Calif., residents have reported seeing fast-moving lights and strange doughnut-on-a-rope vapor trails that some aviation experts say could be made only by a new kind of engine flying at very high speeds.

On Jan. 30, 1992, hundreds of residents in Orange and Los Angeles counties experienced what felt like a small earthquake or a huge sonic boom. Seismographs of the U.S. Geological Survey measured a shock wave traveling from the Pacific Ocean toward Nevada that could be produced only by an aircraft traveling faster than three times the speed of sound.

Cynics believed they caught the Air Force in a lie when a 1985 Pentagon budget request forgot to censor a project called "Aurora" that had been grouped with other high-speed aviation projects. The Air Force denied any knowledge of such a project.

Testor said its latest "Top Secret" models were designed by analyzing sonic boom patterns over Southern California, jet exhaust patterns over Nevada, journals on Stealth and high-speed jet technology, and informed aviation-industry speculation about what the aircraft would look like.

"We believe we're very close -- about 80 percent," said John Andrews, an aviation historian in San Diego who designed the new models, as well as the F-19.

Mr. Andrews said he isn't worried about the Air Force denials.

Could be CIA

"They may not be the agency flying the plane -- it could be the CIA or another national security agency," he said. "But there are people who have seen this plane; there are exhaust trails in the sky."

Mr. Andrews added: "If it isn't being flown by the U.S. government, then there is some alien spacecraft up there that the government had better check out."

According to Testor's theory, the SR-75 would take off with the XR-7 riding piggyback, much the same way the space shuttle is moved around the country on the back of a Boeing 747.

5,000 MPH

After breaking the sound barrier, the XR-7 would release from the SR-75. The small plane's powerful engines would ignite, blasting it to seven times the speed of sound.

Testor says that if it exists, the SR-75 would be about 160 feet long, have a crew of three and a top speed of 3.5 times the speed of sound. The smaller XR-7, at 80 feet long, would carry a single crewman and top out at Mach 7 -- more than 5,000 miles per hour.

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