Mike Kerr ponders an eerie experience...
During the Kosovo crisis the skies above the Adriatic were full of combat aircraft crossing backwards and forwards to strike targets deep into the Balkans. These activities were undoubtedly closely monitored by satellite and manned reconnaissance platforms providing up-to-date information to the NATO chain of command. It is not unreasonable to assume, due to the scale and seriousness of the conflict, that all reconnaissance platforms would have been made available for use.
For some time now speculation about the ultimate recon platform, Lockheed's SR71 replacement 'Aurora', has succeeded in whipping up a frenzy in the aviation publications. If you believe Aurora is actually flying then it seems fair to include it in the Balkan theatre of operations. Aurora could feasibly have been operated from the vast Groom Lake complex in Nevada, over to the Balkans at very high altitudes and speeds, and back in one mission. Although Aurora has a reputation of being almost extra-terrestrial it would still be under the restraints of any mission planning, e.g. route and diversions, etc., so this brings me to the point of this article, a possible Aurora sound-bite!
As I was working nearby, as soon as the B52s and B1Bs arrived at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire I made many visits to witness Buffs and Bones departing fully bombed up on their way to do what they do best. It was not until sometime later that I realised their flight path took them just to the west of my home village, near Sudbury in Suffolk. On a few occasions I watched them go over at dusk, clearly visible at around 12,000ft, heading south towards the Balkans. As I watched them go it was strange to think that here I was doing the gardening and two Bones were high above on a real-life combat mission.
One evening I went to a social function at the village hall, and after a good time was had by all, returned home at about one in the morning. After a few coffees I decided to take the dog out for a quick walk due to his persistent attempts to get me out of my chair. I went out into the garden, which was in total darkness, the night sky above crystal clear and studded with countless stars. The silence was broken by a low rumbling that initially did not draw my attention, but due to the rapid increase in volume I looked up, scanning the clear skies for a possible visual contact with a navigation light. Although I scanned this way and that, I could not not see any movement, and by this time I judged the sound to be directly overhead, rapidly moving away from me. This is when I noticed a distinct change in the sound as it went from a loud roar to a definite intermittent pulsing rumble. I remember reading a report that Aurora engine noise sounds a bit like a train, the rapid throbbing pulsing sound being very similar. It continued for a short while until silence once again returned to the still night. I estimated that the whole over-flight lasted only one minute, on a south to north heading. It gave me the impression that it was travelling at high speed and high altitude, due to the other experiences I have had observing aircraft.
I stood there for a while reflecting on the event, mulling over my initial thought when I heard the pulsing, "it's an Aurora!" So, was this the fabled roman goddess of dawn up early on a post strike reconnaissance mission, or was it just an unexplained rumble over Suffolk. Unfortunately Harry the dog was my only witness to the event and he's not much of an aircraft enthusiast!
Pictures courtesy of Adrian Mann, and you can see more of his fabulous drawings here.