In 2013, Lockheed Martin announced the development of the successor to the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. The SR-72 Son Of Blackbird is the successor to the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, which was the fastest plane to ever exist.
The SR-71 was capable of reaching speeds over three times the speed of sound, and the SR-72 is intended to have even more impressive specs.
Built by Lockheed Martin in the 1960s, the SR-71 could reach speeds exceeding Mach 3 (above 2,200 mph). That’s over 3x faster than the speed of sound. The recon jets went out of service in 1998.
Featuring a single, full-scale engine, the SR-72 is being designed to fly for several minutes at an eye-opening speed of Mach 6, which is more than four thousand six hundred miles per hour. Traveling at this mind-bending speed, the aircraft could theoretically depart from a base located in the continental United States to hit targets across the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans in approximately ninety minutes.
According to airforce-technology.com, this “SR-72 aircraft will have the capability to perform high-speed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike operations. The first flight of the SR-72 demonstrator is anticipated in 2023, while the full-scale aircraft is expected to enter into service by 2030.”
The SR-72 will boast a similar size and range as the SR-71 and will likely tackle the same missions.
“The new aircraft is expected to strike targets anywhere across a continent in less than an hour when equipped with hypersonic missiles such as Lockheed Martin’s High-Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW),” the site says.
“The high-speed of the aircraft ensures penetration into protected airspace. … The SR-72 will be optionally equipped to fight in combat operations. The aircraft development is supported by the long-term hypersonic road map of the USAF,” it adds.
The aerospace company’s Skunk Works is collaborating with Aerojet Rocketdyne on the propulsion system that will enable the SR-72 to achieve a speed of Mach 6, which is two times faster than the previous version.
“The problem with hypersonic propulsion has always been the gap between the highest-speed capability of a turbojet and the lowest speed of a ramjet. Most ramjets cannot achieve ignition below Mach 4. Turbine engines typically can accelerate to only Mach 2.2, below speeds at which a ramjet could take over and continue acceleration”
“Therefore, NASA and Lockheed must develop either a turbine engine that can accelerate to Mach 4 or a ramjet that can function at speeds within a turbine engine’s envelope. … The target is to be able to go up to Mach 7 then transition back to the turbine to land it on a runway and recover it. The problem is how you can get the vehicle to fly fast enough to ignite the DMRJ and then have the DMRJ take over,” it adds.
According to defense writer Sebastien Roblin, “no manned aircraft in operational service has matched the remarkable long-distance Mach 3 cruises of the Blackbird. Until recently, SR-71s simply outran missiles fired at them on photo-reconnaissance missions over North Korea and the Middle East”.
He continues: “Now the latest surface-to-air missiles render Mach 3 speeds inadequate to assure survival, but a hypersonic aircraft might again outpace the threats arrayed against it.”
As for Lockheed’s intention for promoting the hypersonic aircraft concept, “it seems explicitly intended to build support for additional funding. This may be because it’s pursuing the project with the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency (DARPA), which focuses on innovative development of cutting-edge technologies often well ahead of capabilities in operational service, rather than fulfilling an Air Force requirement.”
Little more has been announced about the SR-72, but if Lockheed’s timeline holds true, it could by flying high above our heads as early as the 2030s… but for now Lockheed is remaining tight-lipped about the performance expected out of the aircraft design, and if the SR-71 is any indicator, their secrecy will likely continue for some years to come.