On Jan 11, 2018, Boeing unveiled a conceptual model for a new hypersonic jet that would replace the SR-71 Blackbird at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech forum in Orlando.
This ‘Son of Blackbird’ could become a high-speed strike and reconnaissance aircraft in the warfare of the future, travelling at Mach 5+ speeds that adversaries would have no time to react or hide.
The speed of sound, Mach 1, is around 767mph (1,235kmh). Hitting Mach 5 would mean the new craft has to travel at an astonishing 3,836mph (6,174kmh).
It is designed to carry out spy missions in the same way as the Blackbird SR-71, which was the world’s fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft throughout its career. In 1976 SR-71 set an absolute speed record of 2,193.2mph (3,529kmh) – a record it still holds today.
Related Article: SR-72 hyper-sonic Scram jet spy plane can cross the Atlantic at Mach 6 & can carry weapons
Boeing’s model design is similar to one Lockheed Martin is working on. The aerospace industry right now is racing to produce a hypersonic strike and reconnaissance aircraft to replace the famed SR-71 Blackbird.
— Guy Norris (@AvWeekGuy) January 10, 2018
The design is an early concept that’s not yet approved by Boeing for full-scale development. But the model, which shows a twin-tail, highly swept delta wing configuration, represents a feasible hypersonic design, Boeing’s head of hypersonic research told Aviation Week Aerospace Daily:
“We asked, ‘What is the most affordable way to do a reusable hypersonic demonstrator vehicle?’ And we did our own independent research looking at this question,” says Kevin Bowcutt, Boeing chief scientist for hypersonics. If the concept is selected for full-scale development, Boeing envisions a two-step process beginning with flight tests of an F-16-sized, single-engine proof-of-concept precursor vehicle leading to a twin-engine, full-scale operational vehicle with about the same dimensions as the 107-ft.-long SR-71.
Boeing spokeswoman Sandra Angers told Business Insider in an emailed statement. “In that sense, it could be a future replacement for the SR-71.”
“It’s a conceptual model for an eventual demonstrator, but no one has committed to building a reusable hypersonic demonstrator yet,” Angers added. “We’re constantly looking to advance concept in technology areas that could someday be asked for by the customer.”
Boeing is one of the largest defence contractors and political donors in the US. Boeing’s conceptual design will have to take off and land on its own, which is much harder
Boeing will expand on research from its past X-43 and X-51 Waverider experimental aircraft, which were tests of unmanned hypersonic planes, as the company refines a new aircraft design. The X-51 broke the record for the sustained air-breathing hypersonic flight when it flew at Mach 5.1 for three and a half minutes before running out of fuel and crashing into the Pacific Ocean on May 1, 2013.
Lockheed Martin is also developing a successor to the SR-71 — the SR-72, which it expects to test in 2020.