The Lockheed Martin SR-72, also known as the “Son of Blackbird,” is a hypersonic unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) concept that is being developed under the company’s Skunk Works or Advanced Development Programs.
This next-generation aircraft has been tabbed to be the highly anticipated successor to SR-71 Blackbird that retired from service in the U.S. Air Force in 1998. Since that year, the company had made several attempts to develop a successor to the SR-71 but was unable to do so.
As explained by author James C. Goodall, per Aviation Geek Club, the Lockheed Martin “contract provides for a parametric design study to establish the viability of a turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) propulsion system consisting of several combinations of near-term turbine engine solutions integrated with a very low-Mach ignition dual-mode ramjet (DMRJ) in the SR-72 vehicle concept.”
It continues: “The SR-72 is envisioned as an unmanned, reusable hypersonic ISR and strike aircraft capable of Mach 6 flight, or nearly double the speed of its predecessor, the SR-71 Blackbird. NASA is funding the validation of a previous Lockheed study that found that speeds up to Mach 7 could be achieved with a dual-mode engine that combines turbine and ramjet technologies.”
If this mind-bending speed is eventually achieved, the aircraft could theoretically depart from a base located in the continental United States to hit targets across the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans in roughly ninety minutes.
“The USAF has a hypersonics roadmap that envisions fielding a hypersonic strike weapon, to succeed the X-51 Waverider proof-of-concept demonstration. The Waverider successfully launched from a B-52 and was powered to Mach 4.8 by a booster rocket. The X-51 then accelerated to Mach 5.1 after igniting its ramjet engine,” Aviation Geek Club writes.
“The roadmap envisions a follow-on program calling for a reusable unmanned aircraft with Mach 6 speeds. At that speed, intelligence can be gathered or weapons delivered before enemy air defenses are even alerted,” it added.
According to Airforce Technology, 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 similar size and range as the SR-71 and will likely engage in 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 high-speed of the aircraft ensures penetration into protected airspace. … The SR-72 will be optionally equipped to fight in combat operations,” the site says.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.