On December 22nd, 1964, the Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” made its first flight. It was a Mach 3+ long-range and advanced strategic reconnaissance aircraft that had a unique mechanism to outrun threats. If a surface-to-air missile launch was detected, standard procedure was to just speed up and outrun the threat. Since the Blackbird was ultimately retired in 1998, most of us have wondered if the folks at Lockheed Skunk Works are ever going to work on a successor. Turns out, they have been working on a successor, dubbed the SR-72. It is described as an “affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and strike platform, one that can be developed in demonstrator form by 2018.
The Blackbird was known for its speed and Skunk Works aims to build on that, actually, it wants to double that to be precise. The SR-72 is designed for Mach 6 cruise, meaning that it would be more than capable of outflying missiles. The successor is also designed to have the optional capability of striking targets. Skunk Works has worked with Aerojet Rocketdyne for the past seven years to develop a method that would cut down the costs of the SR-72 program by quite a margin, says Brad Leland, portfolio manage for air-breathing hypersonic technologies. The method is to integrate a conventional fighter-class turbine with a scramjet, making it capable enough to power the SR-72 from standstill to Mach 6 plus.
The SR-72 will definitely be a game changer, seeing as how the ability to cruise and unleash hell on your adversaries at hypersonic speeds is definitely the next frontier in modern warfare. The aircraft is going to be so fast that adversaries won’t have enough time to hide their critical assets or even launch a retaliation if they don’t have similar technology. Even the SR-71 Blackbird has an unblemished track record during its decades of service, out of the 32 aircraft built only 12 were lost but none were downed by enemy action. An operational SR-72 unmanned aircraft may be over 100 ft long, the first flight research vehicle is expected to fly in 2023 whereas Leland believes that the Blackbird’s successor may enter full service by 2030.