During the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the most feared plane in the air was one of the few military jets with no weapons, The U.S. Air Force SR-71 Blackbird. The super plane was starkly black against the sky, faster than anything else in the sky was, and has a flight ceiling that is still classified. The Blackbird was the closest thing to a space plane our world has been able to produce and it was beautiful. By 1998, the military versions of the SR-71 were officially retired leaving the last operating Blackbirds in NASA's fleet.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and no real successor to the blackbird has emerged, the space shuttle has been grounded, and the US manned space program operates through the cooperation with other governmental space programs.
Enter The Son
With an eye on the future, and my personal hope that the plane will reenergize the flagging interest in the American space program, Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks have announced the plans to build the successor to the Blackbird.
Dubbed the "Son of the Blackbird," the new SR-72 will be the obvious successor to the title of fastest plane in the air when it takes to the air as the first manned hypersonic demonstrator.
The SR-71 was developed using 20th century technology. It was envisioned with slide rules and paper. It wasn't managed by millions of lines of software code. And it wasn't powered by computer chips. All that changes with the SR-72.
Envisioned as an unmanned aircraft, the SR-72 would fly at speeds up to Mach 6, or six times the speed of sound. At this speed, the aircraft would be so fast, an adversary would have no time to react or hide.
"Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour," said Brad Leland, Lockheed Martin program manager, Hypersonics. "Speed is the next aviation advancement to counter emerging threats in the next several decades. The technology would be a game-changer in theater, similar to how stealth is changing the battlespace today."
A hypersonic plane does not have to be an expensive, distant possibility. In fact, an SR-72 could be operational by 2030. For the past several years, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works has been working with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop a method to integrate an off-the-shelf turbine with a supersonic combustion ramjet air-breathing jet engine to power the aircraft from standstill to Mach 6. The result is the SR-72 that Aviation Week has dubbed "son of Blackbird," and integrated engine and airframe that is optimized at the system level for high performance and affordability.
Hope For The Future
Once can only hope that the creation of the SR-72 will inspire a new generation of enthusiast who look to the sky and see opportunity and the future of humanity. I would like to believe that the design and manufacture of this new hypersonic plane will signal a return to a manned space program and a focus on exciting new technologies.
Source: Lockheed Martin