But a satellite photograph, apparently taken by Google Earth’s mapping project, seems to show a high-tech airplane or spacecraft at Pratt and Whitney’s airfield off the Beeline Highway.
Pratt and Whitney isn’t commenting and neither is Lockheed Martin, the other company that’s been involved in developing a hypersonic craft.
The Google Earth image shows a fascinating, futuristic, befuddling shape.
Could this be a new jet or shuttle of some kind? Or is this a design using alien technology?
There were no answers to be found at Pratt & Whitney. The aerospace facility in Palm Beach County has tight security and the private airfield attached to the complex can’t be seen from the road.
In an emailed statement, Pratt & Whitney spokesman Matthew C. Bates would only say that the aerospace company is a world leader in delivering propulsion solutions for commercial and military customers.
“We routinely conduct engine and component testing for a variety of programs at our West Palm Beach facility. As a general rule, we do no comment on proprietary programs,” Bates wrote.
Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group Corp., an aerospace and defense market research firm, said the photo of the mysterious aircraft is intriguing.
He speculated it could be a stealth drone. The Air Force has released few details on these unmanned aerial vehicles, but defense analysts say they could be used to avoid detection while conducting reconnaissance behind enemy lines.
“Someone would have had to monumentally screw up for it to be outdoors in daytime,” Aboulafia said.
Another possibility is it’s a non-flying engine test rig, he said.
Charles Huber, who used to work as an aerospace engineer at the Department of Defense, now teaches science at Boynton Beach Community High School and doubts that the interesting looking craft is shrouded in much secrecy.
“If this was some super-secret thing, I would think that they wouldn’t leave it out in the daylight like that, such that anybody could photograph it,” he said.
Still, he said he found the satellite image very interesting.
“The hypersonic vehicles are meant to go five times the speed of sound, to do that they’d need to have a certain shape and the aircraft that I saw is consistent with a vehicle that could go five times the speed of sound. Sharp edges pointy like a dart for instance.”
Wouldn’t people hear sonic booms if this aircraft was put into flight?
Not necessarily, Huber says, because the aircraft wouldn’t reach top speed until it was at its highest altitude — nearly in space.