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Do you like a good mystery?
I know that I do.
And I've got a great one I'm going to share here today.
I'm not just passing idle time here.
Or trying to fill space because I've got "writer's block" (which I never get).
I'm sharing this aerospace mystery because I'm betting that it's closely tied to a new hypersonic "Skunk Works" spy plane that three of our favorite aerospace innovators are developing for the U.S. Air Force.
This particular mystery played out in broad daylight – in the highly trafficked air corridors near the Oregon-California border. It involved the Air Force, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and – just so you understand the gravity of what played out – North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the group whose job it is to serve as an "early warning net" and protect the continent from a surprise attack.
The Air Force even scrambled a couple of interceptors in response to this incident – though to no avail.
So settle back and let me tell this tale.
And then let me tell you why it matters…
This incident – brought to light thanks to reporting from Tyler Rogoway at The Drive – took place Oct. 25, a Wednesday. It got started in the late afternoon.
Airliners flying throughout the Pacific Northwest started reporting an unidentified aircraft flying at high altitudes and in a manner that made it mysterious, if not downright suspicious.
Rogoway reported that one unnamed airline pilot wrote this in a Reddit post:
Just landed in Seattle coming from the Bay Area. Beginning over southern Oregon we kept overhearing Seattle Center attempting to track an airplane with no transponder who wasn't talking. A handful of crews were able to track it visually, best they could tell it was between FL350-370 [35,000-37,000 feet], northbound. Nobody close enough to see the type.
Before you dismiss this as a "So what?" there are some striking points here.
First, you have an aircraft operating in heavily trafficked corridors… with no radio (that it was willing to use)… and with no transponder – the "transmitter-responder" that generates an automated identifier response when queried by air-traffic controllers.
Especially in the post-9/11 era, aircraft identification is must-have technology. Transponders are used to ID and track all aircraft and to avoid aerial collisions. The fact that the mystery plane wasn't responding to radio queries and wasn't "squawking" its ID meant the pilot didn't want the plane to be identified.
What's more, we're talking about a plane that was flying at an altitude of seven miles above the ground – meaning this wasn't some Sunday flyer in a Cessna out for a joyride.
While some folks who've read this account have suggested this might have been a drug runner, everything about this incident – to me – screams "military."
And Rogoway's account presents additional evidence that this is the case. Despite the aircraft's high altitude, some of the air-traffic installations were having trouble "painting" the target.
In other words, they couldn't pick it up on radar.
Radar is a sophisticated piece of gear. But the premise is simple. You bounce a radio wave off a target. The time it takes to return tells you how far away it is. And with sophisticated systems, you can even determine the type or intent of the target you're tracking.
The fact that these radar systems couldn't "find" the airplane could be telling us something, too. I'm purposely oversimplifying all of this. But today's most modern military aircraft are designed in a way to "deflect" radar waves away so that they don't return to the sender. And they're coated with something called radar-absorbent material (RAM), which deadens the radar wave and kills the "return signature."
No return, no ability to track.
The military has a term for aircraft of this type – a term I'm sure you know well.
I'm talking about "stealth."
Initially, controllers were having so much trouble tracking the mystery aircraft that they started asking airline pilots in the area to "put eyes on" the target. Which they did.
Some airliners were able to track the mystery plane on their digital traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS). So the airplane was really there.
And yet, none of these seasoned pilots – who fly daily and are familiar with the airplanes that fly American skies – were able to "type" the plane.
Lest you think this was some kind of aerial urban legend or an in-the-sky version of the "big fish that got away" story, let me put you straight.
Rogoway only used that Reddit post to get him started. The fact is that this incident "resulted in multiple pilot eyewitnesses, recorded air traffic control audio, and eventual confirmations from both the FAA and North American Aerospace Command (NORAD)."
I listened to some of the aforementioned recordings myself. It was disconcerting.
Indeed, the Air Force, frustrated by the lack of answers, scrambled several F-15 Eagle interceptors. But by the time this was done, and by the time they'd arrived, the mystery plane was gone.
The Super-Duper Skunk Works Spy Plane
So we have an aircraft that can fly at high altitudes, that has no identifying transponder, and that's difficult to pick up on radar. And it's willing to risk all this by flying in a heavily trafficked flight corridor.
All this – to me – screams "military."
It also screams "secret."
As I see it, several other bits of evidence back this up.
The air corridor we're talking about here isn't that far from Area 51, near Las Vegas, the obsessively secret military base that's been birthing the United States' most advanced aircraft for half a century.
Area 51 is so secret, in fact, that the main body of the U.S. military doesn't even know what's being tested there.
The reason I find this so intriguing right now relates to our ongoing coverage of the Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT) SR-72 "Son of Blackbird" – a hypersonic jet that's already under development and that will enter service late in the next decade.
We've been following this spy plane saga for you since late 2013. And we've been following the "hypersonic arms race" even longer.
Lockheed's "Skunk Works" – a legendary, "black budget" development program – is creating the jet. Lockheed is a Private Briefing recommendation.
So is Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. (NYSE: AJRD), the rocket-engine specialist Lockheed has tapped to help develop the "scramjet" engines that will push the Son of Blackbird to six times the speed of sound.
A third PB recommendation – The Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) – is also pioneering hypersonic technology.
The Son of Blackbird isn't supposed to be flying yet.
But this technology is already being tested – in secret.
According to a Sept. 27 report in Aviation Week's Aerospace Daily & Defense Report – the "bible" of the aerospace business – a demonstrator prototype of the SR-72 was seen at a "black project" plant in California.
According to journalist Guy Norris, an "unmanned subscale" (a scaled-down version of the real thing, but one that really flies) was seen at the Air Force's Plant 42 in Palmdale. That's where Lockheed's Skunk Works is based.
Norris said the drone flew into Palmdale on an early morning in July, escorted by two Air Force T-38 jets. He said Lockheed wouldn't comment.
So we know that the SR-72 "demonstrator" is being flown.
And one of the places it's most certainly being flown from is Area 51.
That means it's fully possible that the "mystery plane" spotted near the Oregon-California border late last month is the same plane that was spotted flying into Palmdale several months before.
The Next Big Market in Aerospace
The Son of Blackbird is a needed follow-on to the earlier Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Cold War spy plane that achieved legendary status.
From the time it became operational in 1964 until it was retired in 1989 (and then retired again in 1998), the SR-71 was unparalleled it its ability to fly fast, fly high, and literally outrun the missiles enemy defenders fired to bring it down.
In fact, during its entire operational career – 3,551 mission sorties totaling 11,000 hours (including 2,750 mission hours being flown at Mach 3) – no Blackbird was ever felled by enemy fire.
That's no surprise, of course: You can't hit what you can't catch.
The needle-nosed black jet cruised easily at Mach 3.2 and flew its missions at 85,000 feet – right at the edge of outer space. That extreme performance, and the spy plane's 2,900-mile mission range, meant the Blackbird could "overfly" potential hot spots in North Korea and Vietnam – or even a nuclear test site deep inside China – and bring back "the goods" that Pentagon decision-makers desperately needed in order to act.
Spy satellites, for all their benefits, lack the flexibility of supersonic spy planes.
Jets, you see, can be directed to a specific target at a desired point in time, while satellites are shackled to their orbiting tracks. In fact, in cases where the president or the Pentagon needs to look at a specific target, it can take as long as 24 hours before a satellite can be in the proper orbit. That's much longer than it takes to plan and launch a spy plane mission. And because the overflights of satellites can be predicted, a targeted enemy can camouflage or otherwise hide the assets our military leaders want to see.
These shortcomings quickly became apparent when Congress forced the Blackbird's first retirement in 1989. Just four months later, with Operation Desert Storm swirling, U.S. Gen. "Stormin'" Norman" Schwarzkopf, Jr., was told that the expedited reconnaissance the Blackbird could have given him was no longer available.
In part because of that lesson – and several others like it – several SR-71s were brought out of retirement in 1993. But the program was killed for good in 1998, leaving a gap in America's strategic reconnaissance capabilities that new drone-type aircraft are just beginning to fill.
With that, Congress notched an achievement that had forever eluded our enemies.
It brought down the Blackbird.
That's left a hole in the Pentagon's ability to keep tabs on enemies – or new hot spots around the world.
Making matters worse is the reality that Beijing is investing heavily in "space weapons" – hoping to make render China's enemies "blind" during a fight by blasting apart or electrically neutering U.S. spy and navigation satellites.
The Son of Blackbird could counter any move like that – and, being unmanned, wouldn't expose a pilot to enemy fire. It would combine hypersonic speed, stealth, and maneuverability into a fearsome package.
Don't Get Left Behind: This Drone Company Could Net You Massive Gains If You Get in Now.
It's not just a matter of worrying about the loss of the aircraft. It's also the fact that the loss of the aircraft often means that the badly needed information isn't obtained.
"Hypersonic is the new stealth," Brad Leland, portfolio manager for air-breathing hypersonic technologies at Lockheed Martin, told Aviation Week & Space Technology. "Your adversaries cannot hide or move their critical assets. They will be found. That becomes a game changer."
All those things make the SR-72 a high-priority program.
That's why "hypersonics" are the next billion-dollar venue in aerospace. And firms like Lockheed, Aerojet, and Boeing will be big beneficiaries.
Those are all great plays, but there's yet another opportunity in the aerospace realm that is poised for truly explosive growth. Growth that could turn a small stake into $115,900 – fast.
Check it out…
The Next $127 Billion Profit Opportunity
In the barren, hostile plains of the New Mexico desert, not far from the Mexican border, they're building a city like no other.
A city with high rises, avenues, parks, a big-box store, churches, and gas stations for a population of 35,000, all at a ground-up cost exceeding $1 billion…
It's made to look like so many other cities in America, except for one thing: people. There are none. It's a ghost town, and it always will be.
Here's what I've learned about this ghost town and what I believe is really going on.
Its location in New Mexico is the first key: The state scoops up tons of government research dollars straight from Washington.
And indeed, located in hardened shelters far beneath this empty city will be teams of top-secret scientists and federal contractors hard at work…
Driven by what they call "mother's milk" – the hopes of seeing billions of dollars in government funding coming their way. Not to mention the many billions more in new wealth that they hope to create.
I've identified the main group of scientists and researchers behind this project.
They are quite clearly inventing a big future, with new technologies that stretch the imagination – new technologies that are about to be everywhere.
They call their ghost town "Project CITE."
It's the brainchild of the government contractor Marble Arch.
And when you learn how tight Marble Arch is with the Pentagon and how many massive government contracts Marble Arch has scooped up over the years, you know something big is happening here.
"Big," as in "$127-billion-in-new-wealth-for-early-investors Big," my findings suggest.
Marble Arch is run by Bob Brumley, who was U.S. President Ronald Reagan's point man for privatizing commercial space transportation. He's definitely a big thinker – like an Elon Musk with a direct line to government funding!
And this new venture of his is every bit as ambitious as space travel, with even bigger impact, because it's happening right before our eyes.
Now, as I've mentioned, the specific details of this venture are not public. But after my investigation, I'm incredibly confident it will involve the next big thing in tech, security, and investing.
I'm talking about unmanned flying machines.
But not the drones you're probably thinking of. Not the kind the military uses to hunt down and kill enemy terrorists. Not any kind you've ever heard of before.
These are what I call "AI Drones" – a brand-new breed of amazingly intelligent, super-capable drones unlike anything I've ever witnessed; drones that can use artificial intelligence to benefit more people, businesses, and countries than you could have ever imagined possible.
But there's another reason why these new drones will soon be everywhere.
I'm talking about a big event that just happened…
An event that's blowing the lid off the drone market not two years from now… not a year from now… not even six months from now…
It's happening as we speak.
And I've uncovered one tiny company sitting at the center of it all. You may never have a better shot at getting in on the ground floor of such a massive new market.
By getting in early, you could profit from the potentially massive gain that I'm projecting. A gain like this would be the equivalent of turning a small stake into $115,900.
As you know, these kind of quadruple-digit returns are exceptional and don't happen every day. But think about it – even a fraction of these gains could make you a fortune.
Plus, this kind of spike makes perfect sense when you think about it. This is investing in the next frontier in aviation – the next great leap forward.
I see dollar signs, pure and simple, which is why I put a briefing together for you, including this investment recommendation, as well…
Now, because this is a small stock, there will be volatility. So I also recommend a tight buying strategy. The last thing any investor wants to do is blindly chase a small stock upward with no plan in mind. And, as always, never investing more than one can afford to lose is good advice.
About the Author
Before he moved into the investment-research business in 2005, William (Bill) Patalon III spent 22 years as an award-winning financial reporter, columnist, and editor. Today he is the Executive Editor and Senior Research Analyst for Money Morning. With his latest project, Private Briefing, Bill takes you "behind the scenes" of his established investment news website for a closer look at the action. Members get all the expert analysis and exclusive scoops he can't publish... and some of the most valuable picks that turn up in Bill's closed-door sessions with editors and experts.