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Project Aquiline – 1970s CIA UAV [pdf] (cia.gov)
33 points by graderjs 16 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 17 comments

This document was released in 2020, so it's a fairly recent FOIA document. Interesting quote from the document, "Necessarily, the relay aircraft must remain outside of denied territory, and the size of components in the operational vehicle is such that only UHF is available for its control and navigation."

It's pretty cool to see the remote-controlled remote-piloted drone concept was pioneered way back then.

Also, the "obligatory" CIA-/Wiki-pedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_AQUILINE

A proposal for how to fly 104 people to and from Area 51 for minimal cost: https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/AREA%2051%20AIRCRAFT%20...

It's pretty interesting to see they had ~100 people working at area 51 (9 for Aquiline), and were trying to find the best and most cost effective aircraft to transport them from Vegas to there.

Particularly interesting is the redacted cost line: "* 50 Seats for two months @ $10, 604/mo. Until XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX is in operation"--could this redaction refer to a subway or other tunnel transport system?

The date on that is 23 June 1971 (written oddly enough in the European style), and the funding runs to 30 June 1972. The secret airline commonly called "JANET," thought to be run by the Air Force for transporting defense contractors from Vegas to a number of research and development facilities, began operations in March 1972. That suggests that this "shuttle" program is a stopgap transportation program anticipating the creation of "JANET."


This guy totally has it. I think you solved that! Janet (JanAm?)...it's got to be the most likely explanation. It would be cool if there was an underground railway, tho. Thanks! ;p ;) xx

So the fatal flaw was that when the aircraft returned, it had to be flown into a net, which usually resulted in damage to the unit which required repairs. Other than that it was apparently a resounding success!

Thanks for that interesting point and tl;dr -- I found the details quite buried in there and difficult to unearth! :) -- ah, I see you fished it out of the other link. The pdf is not exactly easy to parse...I thought so anyway.

If you find this interesting, then you should definitely check out the book SkunkWorks.

It's about the special projects division in Lockheed who developed the U2 and SR71. One of the interesting things was how they were working on UAV (Unmanned Ariel Vehicles) in the 60's.

It's a thrilling read.


Second this. Ben Rich was a really interesting guy and the first quarter just on the development of Have Blue is a great R&D story.

I worked for a UAV development firm as a student. Since that time, I have always thought that the "UFO" cultural phenomena was largely a response to sightings of very early attempts at unmanned flight. This document makes me all the more certain.

The lay public would have not had any inkling of such technology at that time, exacerbating known problems laypeople have with assessing the size and speed of aircraft. They would have been primed to think in terms of extraterrestrial life by a long sci-fi tradition.

Interesting that this took place around the time of TAGBOARD and then SENIOR BOWL. I would have thought they'd be combined somehow.

Why have one, when you can have three at triple the price?

Satellite communications for a small RC plane in the sixties seems like a large leap. Furthermore, with one dedicated satellite, you have abysmal coverage, like some tens of minutes twice per day. Unless it's geostationary.

Maybe I'm not understanding something.

I thought they were actually controlling it from (or via) a relay plane using UHF. But maybe I'm misunderstanding something!

Edit: actually rereading it I think you're right: seemingly they did plan to use satellites, that's crazy!

Now that I think of it, maybe "procuring a satellite" means getting scheduled time on an existing geostationary satellite or something similar.

Yeah, but they are definitely thinking about satellites a lot in there. They mention an original alternative idea for seemingly fully computerized satellite run operation, which they considered was impractically ambitious and expensive for the time, but settled on a seemingly hybrid satellite/relay-aircraft UHF controlled, if I'm reading it right.

What interests me too is the "Handle via" line at the bottom: "BYEMAN-TALENT—KEYHOLE-COMINT Control Systems Jointly" I wonder what that means?

KEYHOLE and BYEMAN are code words regarding satellite reconnaisance:


That's fascinating! So those terms refer to special compartmented intelligence, gained from satellites. Very cool :p ;) xx

That wasn't the only one of that era: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_D-21

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