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Hunt for the Blackstar: On the Trail of the Military’s Secret “Mothership”

On the evening of September 13, 1990, something unusual appeared in the skies above Mojave, California. Most observers described it as a large, delta-shaped aircraft, which produced a low, rumbling sound as it moved across the nighttime sky.

The mystery aircraft appeared to be accompanied by an F-16 and one other plane, apparently “chase” planes assisting or gathering observational data in relation to the larger aircraft. This would not be the only appearance made by this “mystery aircraft”; a similar display appeared in the skies over Mojave again on October 3 that same year, then again in April of the following year. During the Spring 1991 incident, an observer was able to identify an F-16 accompanying it in the “chase” position, as was seen during its initial appearance earlier in September. The larger aircraft, which appeared to be white or some lighter color, was said to “dwarf” the chasing F-16.

Sometime later, the monolithic “mystery plane” began to make appearances over the Southeast. One such sighting was reported in the early 1990s by CNN writer Glenn Emery, who observed the aircraft near Atlanta, Georgia, at an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 ft altitude (Emery said this was difficult to judge, since the size of the aircraft was unknown, but that the plane he witnessed was “clearly higher and faster” than conventional traffic elsewhere in the sky, which were on their descent into Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport).

Reports would continue, though seldom in occurrence, with some comparing the mystery aircraft to the XB-70, a late 1950s supersonic prototype aircraft designed by North American Aviation, for use in bombing missions by the USAF Strategic Air Command.

The Federation of American Scientists, commenting on sightings of this “mystery plane,” noted that the aircraft’s wingspan would have been roughly equivalent to that of a B-2 bomber, but with a shape that was different enough to be discerned even at night:

Some observers also claim that another larger and more agile aircraft has been cruising the California desert. This aircraft reportedly has a wingspan close to 150 feet. While this dimension is roughly equivalent to that of the B-2 bomber, observers insist that they can distinguish it from the B-2 at night. Unlike the B-2 and the aircraft flying in F- 117A formation, this vehicle appeared highly maneuverable. One is said to have turned 90 degrees on its wingtip.

The B-2 photographed in 1989 during an early public flight.

With time, this large aircraft had picked up a nickname in aviation and defense reporting circles: many had begun calling it the “mothership.”

Based on sightings of the aircraft, mostly reported in Aviation Week and Space Technology, the so-called “mothership” was believed to have been part of a two-vehicle system, with the large craft being observed during the early 1990s being a carrier plane for an orbital component—that is, a smaller spaceplane fitted under the primary craft—which was flown to sub-orbital altitude before being released. The system became known in “secret” circles as the SR3 Blackstar, with its accompanying orbital spaceplane dubbed XOV or “Speedy.”

Speculation about the Blackstar system continued for a number of years in aviation circles. Then in the early 200s, news began to circulate that the Blackstar program might have been shelved, prompting Aviation Week editor William B. Scott to write a lengthy three-part series detailing all that was known about the suspected project at that time.

“Exactly what missions the Blackstar system may have been designed for and built to accomplish are as yet unconfirmed,” Scott wrote in 2006, “but U.S. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) officers and contractors have been toying with similar spaceplane-operational concepts for years. Besides reconnaissance, they call for inserting small satellites into orbit, and either retrieving or servicing other spacecraft. Conceivably, such a vehicle could serve as an anti-satellite or space-to-ground weapons-delivery platform, as well.”

Scott’s articles received a mixed reception from aviation experts, with some expressing critical views about the legitimacy of Aviation Week’s reporting on the hypothetical Blackstar. Others were critical of the critics, including Steve Douglass, an aerospace writer and photojournalist who argued that many of the attacks seemed to have been based on an incomplete reading of Scott’s original series of articles:

“Negative comments centered mostly on the belief that it would be almost impossible to develop such a complicated, expensive and sophisticated system without the American public being aware, but those type of comments came from posters who did not read the entire article with Bill Scott’s excellent research on how the project was specifically structured to isolate it from the military (promoting “plausible deniability”) with it being overseen by private sector contractors much like how the United Space Alliance now manages huge parts of NASA’s manned space flight program.”

“Those who scoff at the report,” Douglass went on to argue, “saying it is too dangerous and difficult to launch a simple space-plane system into space, forget the private-sector has already accomplished just that and without the billion-dollar backing of any government,” citing the aforementioned XB-70, along with the USAF’s Dyna Soar spaceplane project, as examples.

The buzz that the “Blackstar” program created back in the early 2000s led to further interest among many commentators who had been searching for evidence of other hush-hush aerospace projects, among them the mythical “Project Aurora,” a hypothetical reconnaissance plane and successor to the SR-71 Blackbird.

Artist’s conception of Project Aurora based on eyewitness reports from the early 1990s (Wikimedia Commons).

Lawrence Harris, an aerospace and security analyst with the Chicago-based Kemper Securities Group was quoted on July 17, 1992 in Aerospace Daily saying that “Circumstantial evidence suggests that this project has been underway since 1987 and that a first flight occurred in 1989… Aurora could be operational in 1995, six years after the probable first flight.”

However, in the world of black projects and secretive aircraft, seeing is believing, even if the projects in question involve stealth technologies that aren’t meant to be seen. I recall having a discussion about projects like these a number of years ago with a colleague of James Oberg at a conference we both attended, where I proposed that a number of sightings of unexplained aircraft from over the last few decades could be evidence for programs the likes of Blackstar. My friend seemed to think this was unlikely, however, saying that such programs “would have been declassified by now.”

Apparently, Steven Douglass has encountered this argument in the past, as well. In a post at his Deep Blue Horizon blog that accompanied a copy of his original article on the Blackstar program, he discussed the way many dismiss the possible existence of craft like Aurora or Blackstar (which may have been one and the same, as Douglass has argued), along with other rumored aircraft the likes of the TR-3A “Black Manta.”

“Many Internet pundits,” Douglass wrote, “have said, ‘Okay –where’s Aurora. Where’s the F-19? Where’s the TR-3A?’ ”

Douglass thinks it’s unlikely that all such secret aircraft would become public knowledge after only a few decades, as many critics claim:

“It is quite likely that the [Secret Aerospace Projects] that [William Scott] and I wrote about are still classified above Top Secret and may not be acknowledged for another fifty years or so – not just because the technology is sensitive but the various purposes and missions these classified aircraft flew are sensitive as well as are still-classified missions flown by the f-117, SR-71 and U-2.”

The fact that these hypothetical aircraft have captured the interest of aerospace professionals over the years is not proof in itself that they existed (or might still exist). It does, however, suggest that such ideas are not pure speculation, nor are they crazy.  Even if the majority of cases like these were proven unreliable, it would seem that there would have to be at least a few secret aerospace projects that do exist, and which are seen by people–both in the civilian and military sectors–from time to time. The eyewitness reports must account for something, after all… whether any official details will be forthcoming any time soon is another story.

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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