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The Strange Saga of a Secret Aircraft

In March 1997, the UK Independent newspaper ran an article titled “Secret US spyplane crash may be kept under wraps.” In part, it stated: “A top-secret United States spyplane which flies on the edge of space at five times the speed of sound crashed at the British experimental airbase at Boscombe Down, Hampshire, in September 1994, according to a report in a leading military aviation journal. The SAS [Special Air Service], the report said, was scrambled to throw a cordon round the wreckage, which was flown back to the US two days later. The hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft, called Astra or Aurora, is believed to have been developed in the 1980s as a secret US government ‘black programme.'”

The explanation, from British officials, that the mysterious craft was nothing stranger than a Tornado aircraft has been met with rolling eyes and shaking heads. Particularly since the Tornado in question actually came down in August 1994 and not late one night in September of that year. National Archives papers on the affair state the following:

“…the only flying that took place that night was the launch of two Royal navy Sea King helicopters in support of an exercise. Claims that members of the public were turned away by police roadblocks may have arisen from some confusion over dates. On August 12, 1994 a Tornado participating in a trial made an emergency landing there after the decoy target under trial failed to jettison. The Tornado landed with a trailing 375ft steel cable and, for safety reasons, roads close to Boscombe Down were closed while the aircraft passed overhead. We are aware of press reports regarding an aircraft known as ‘Aurora’. The Ministry of Defense has no knowledge of any US aircraft with this designation operating in UK airspace. The existence of such a programme would, in any case, be a matter for the US Government to confirm.”

An artist's conception of the Aurora aircraft.

An artist’s conception of the Aurora aircraft.

So much for the official story. Let’s now take a look at the unofficial version. It was around 11:00 p.m. on September 26, 1994, when a small, twin-tailed aircraft crash-landed onto the lengthy runway at Boscombe Down, which is situated in the English county of Wiltshire. At around the time of the incident, a number of aviation enthusiasts were listening in on air-band radios and were aware that something untoward had taken place.

The following day, several of those same enthusiasts drove to the installation – which is near to the A303 road and not at all far from Stonehenge – and were apprehended by local police who had set up road-blocks to keep away prying eyes. Before being ushered away, however, a number of people succeeded in catching sight of a disabled aircraft. It was situated at the end of the runway and, aside from its twin-tail fins, was completely covered over by tarpaulins.

Air For Monthly magazine was soon on the trail of the truth. In the November 1994 issue of the magazine, investigative writers noted that in the wake of the crash both a Boeing 757 and a C-5 Galaxy arrived at Boscombe Down. The story continued that the secret plane was loaded aboard the Galaxy and flown to “Air Force plant 42 at Palmdale, California.” Air Force Monthly suggested that the aircraft “…was a TR-3A, the existence of which the U.S. Government has yet to officially acknowledge.” The subsonic, stealth TR-3A – also referred to as the Black Manta – remains an enigma, since its existence has never been officially confirmed.

A303 Road

A303 Road

The account of the crash at Boscombe Down is made all the more intriguing by a story that was published in the UK’s Salisbury Times newspaper on August 23, 1994 – just about a month before all hell broke loose at Boscombe Down. The location: the aforementioned A303 road. The article states:

“A green flying saucer hovered beside the A303 road at Deptford last week – according to a lorry driver who rushed to Salisbury police station in the early hours of the morning. The man banged on the station door in Wilton Road at 1:30 a.m. on Thursday after spotting the saucer suspended in mid-air. ‘He was 100 per cent convinced it was a UFO,’ said Inspector Andy Shearing. The man said it was bright green and shaped like a triangle with rounded corners. It also had green and white flashing lights. Other drivers had seen it and were flashing their car lights at him. A patrol car took the driver back to the spot but there was no trace of the flying saucer. Inspector Shearing said police had been alerted about similar sightings in the same area in the past.”

Although the Times called the object a “flying saucer,” the description of it being “shaped like a triangle with rounded corners,” sounds very much like the TR-3A. It’s also a near-perfect description of equally unidentified aircraft that have become known within Ufology as “Flying Triangles.” But here’s the most important issue: the witness reported that the object he saw was “suspended in mid-air.” This is particularly fascinating, as there are longstanding rumors that the TR-3A has hovering capabilities.

Is it feasible that the aircraft seen hovering beside the A303 in the early hours of an August 1994 morning was the very same one that came crashing down on the runway at nearby Boscombe Down a month later? I would say, yes, it’s extremely feasible. Today, 21 years later, the events at Boscombe Down remain shrouded in mystery and secrecy. Unless you buy into the Tornado explanation, of course.

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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