Everything we know about the SR-72: Imagine a future crisis somewhere in Europe or Asia and the United States getting an intelligence-gathering aircraft overhead of the site in an hour and a half. It could become a reality in very short order as the US’ premier aeronautics engineers are making it happen.
The Lockheed Martin SR-72 — also known as the “Son of Blackbird”, is the United States’ hypersonic unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) concept that is expected to have the capability to perform high-speed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), as well as strike operations.
The aircraft is being developed under Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works or Advanced Development Programs. About 85 percent of the work done there is classified by the government.
SR-72 Son of Blackbird Carries the Name of Its Famous Father:
This next-generation aircraft is expected to be the highly anticipated successor to Lockheed Martin’s SR-71 Blackbird, which retired from service in United States Air Force in 1998. The legendary Blackbird could fly on the edge of space with a ceiling of 85,000 feet. The SR-71 also owns the speed record for aircraft with an incredible speed of Mach 3.3 or 2,193.7 mph, which was over 500 mph faster than any Russian/Soviet aircraft and was set in 1976.
The Blackbird, by flying so high and so fast was able to outrun missiles, even if the enemy had a radar lock. There have been more than 4,000 air-to-air missiles fired at the SR-71 without hitting it. The Blackbird was the pinnacle of America’s Cold War dominance in aeronautical engineering.
Since being retired in 1998, the company had made several attempts to create a worthy successor to the SR-71 but has been unable to do, until now.
Back in 2018, Lockheed Vice President Jack O’Banion spoke at an event and stated that the leaps made in hypersonic technology would put a hypersonic aircraft in the hands of our warfighters soon.
“We couldn’t have made the engine itself — it would have melted down into slag if we had tried to produce it five years ago,” O’Banion said.
“But now we can digitally print that engine with an incredibly sophisticated cooling system integral into the material of the engine itself, and have that engine survive for multiple firings for routine operation.”
The SR-72 Will Be the Fastest Aircraft in the World:
Although the original Blackbird was an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft, the SR-72 will reportedly support Lockheed Martin’s new High-Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW). And while the world was watching closely when the Chinese tested their hypersonic missiles, the Son of Blackbird will reportedly fly at a blistering Mach 6 or 4603 mph or twice the speed of the original SR-71.
And this potentially unmanned aircraft will be armed and available to conduct high-precision airstrikes against our future enemies in threat environments that may be deemed too risky for slower, manned fighters.
From airforce-technology.com “The SR-72 aircraft will be powered by two engines. The aircraft will receive thrust from the turbine engine until it reaches a speed of Mach 3, while the dual-mode ramjet will deliver power for the flight at hypersonic speeds. The aircraft will use a single inlet nozzle for both the turbine engine and ramjet for reducing the drag.”
If the speed of the aircraft meets expectations, the SR-72 could take off from the United States and overfly targets in either Europe or Asia in 90 minutes. And now will be able to deliver a strike package. But there are issues.
The biggest challenge with developing 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 reach speeds only to Mach 2.2, which is far below the speed necessary for a ramjet to ignite and increase the acceleration. NASA, who is working on this project with Lockheed has design engineers who are looking for a turbine-based combined system where at low speeds the turbine provides power, then at higher speeds, a ramjet takes over.
A demonstrator aircraft is expected to be ready for its first flight in 2023 and the SR-72 is expected to be operational by 2030.
Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for PatsFans.com and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.