SR - 72 : Son Of Blackbird

SR - 72 : Son Of Blackbird

In late 1964 an aircraft took off for the first time that revolutionized aviation. Sleek, sophisticated, technologically cutting edge and looked more like something that might appear out of Bruce Wayne’s bat cave than a traditional aircraft. It was of course “The SR-71 Blackbird”. The SR-71 was an aircraft that set a new benchmark and one that served the United States Air force faithfully for almost 35 years. During its lifespan it was the worlds fastest and highest flying air breathing operational manned aircraft with a fastest recorded speed of 3529.6 km/hr that’s 2193 mph and its highest recorded altitude was about 26000 meters that’s about 85000 feet which is roughly halfway up to where the earth’s stratosphere begins. It goes without saying that SR-71 was an absolutely astonishing aircraft but waits and read what comes next?


Lockheed Martin SR-72 blackbird – The Son of Blackbird is now inching ever closer to its grand appearance. Though it’s still perhaps a decade until it enters in full service, solid information regarding this new aircraft is sadly scanned at this point as almost all of it is classified and under development. But we do have enough to piece together a somewhat clear picture of what the SR-72 might look like. An aircraft which if the room and speeds anything to go by should be able to reach anywhere on the planet in an hour or less.

When the SR-71 took its final touchdown in 1999 it did so without a direct successor in place while other aircraft could cover some of its roles it was clear that there was a coverage gap between surveillance satellites manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. Just quickly jump back and see what kind of aircraft the SR-71 was to better understand what might come next. The SR-71 was a long range high altitude, mach 3 strategic reconnaissance aircraft which first flew in 1966 before being retired in 1999 that was actually its second retirement, the first of which came in 1990 but because of how things were in the Middle East and North Korea the old boys were rolled out for another decade. The aircraft exclusively used for high altitude reconnaissance and most of its services history is shrouded in secrecy. Pilots who flew the aircraft have spoken of missions averaging three to four hours though on several occasions that reached well over 11 hours.

Yom Kipper War

SR-71 was famously used during the Yom Kipper War in 1973 between Israel and its Arab neighbors. President Richard Nixon was eager to see whether Israeli and Arab forces have pulled back to where they said they had so he ordered several blackbirds to take a look. The SR-71 departed the east coast of United States and delivering the damning photographic evidence directly back to President Nixon. Neither the Israelis nor the Arab forces were where they said they were Nixon called all of the countries directly to announce his inside knowledge shortly after forces from both sides slunk back to where they were supposed to be and the war came to a close shortly after that. During its operational history and estimated 800 missiles were fired various SR-71s all of which missed, that’s not say that it didn’t experience its fair share of accidents especially during developments but in terms of getting in and out of enemy territory quickly and efficiently it was unparalleled. When the end came for SR-71 for the second time in 1999 it was a little unclear what came next the increased use of satellites and drone technology left. Some questioning whether the US would ever again need a high altitude, high speed reconnaissance aircraft in quite the same way but things can change?

The rise of anti-satellites weapons anti-access aerial denial tactics and counter stealth technologies have meant that the idea of a roaring aircraft flying at the edge of space that could quickly penetrate enemy territory has come into fashion.

Early Development of “The SR-72 Blackbird”

Reports began creeping out in 2007 about a possible successor to the SR-71 and one which would be at least twice as fast reaching speeds of more than six times the speed of sound but it wasn’t until 2013 that things appeared to be confirmed when Lockheed Martin official Robert Weiss publically stated that the company was developing a hypersonic plane which he referred to as the SR-72. The company also released the concept art depicting an aircraft that looked more like a spacecraft than a plane. The aircraft is being developed at Lockheed Martin skunk works division a semi-secretive department responsible for many of the most astonishing aircraft that have ever appeared over the last 70 years. The aircraft is thought roughly the same size as SR-71 measuring around 30 meters in length. The major difference however will be that the SR-72 will be unmanned whereas its father came with a crew of two. The other major difference is that the SR-72 won’t simply be the eyes in the skies. It will also have a strike role most likely using the latest hypersonic missile technology. It’s thought that SR-72 will be powered by two engines. The first of which a turbine engine will power the aircraft until it reaches a speed between mach 2 and mach 3 that’s between 2469 and 3704 km/hr while the second a dual mode ramjet will provide power for the aircraft’s hypersonic speeds. After the excitement of the announcement they followed a lull of information regarding SR-72 with some questioning whether the technology to push a plane to mach 6 even really existed. The biggest obstacle seemed to be the overlap between two engines. A typical turbojet engine has a top speed of around mach 2.2 while the scram-jet engine has the lowest possible operating speed of roughly mach 4. So you can see that there is considerable gap between the two. In 2014 things took a bit of twist when NASA became involved with the project and awarded LM $ 892292 contract to study possibility of using a turbine based combined cycle (TBCC) propulsion system which combines both the turbojet engine and the ramjet engine.

The two engines

The turbojet was first envisioned by a Frenchman by the name of Maxime Guiliaume in 1921 though his design was never actually built. The “Heinkel He-178” was the first aircraft to use technology in 1939 and it’s fair to say that we haven’t looked back since. The turbojet is an air breathing jet engine and comes with gas turbine and a propelling nozzle. Inside the turbine is a compressor and combustion chamber and it is when the compressed air from the compressor is heated with the help of  burning fuel in the combustion chamber that it expands throughout the turbine the exhaust fills the propelling nozzle and is forced out of the back providing the aircraft with its thrust. Most engines we see today are similar to this but as we’ve seen with this type of engine it does come with speed limit. One option is include afterburner which is often seen in modern military aircraft like F22 Raptor. Afterburner is a additional combustion chamber added to turbine which can dramatically increase speed but typically uses around four times the fuel that a non-afterburner mode uses. 



Now before we jump straight to a scramjet it makes sense to start with his little brother – the ramjet, while you might think that the ramjet with its significantly higher speeds is a modern invention, well think again the concept actually dates back to 1913 and another French inventor Rene Lorin although it would be some time before a working model emerged. The ramjet uses forward motion to compress incoming air without the aid of compressors for this reason ramjet cannot starts from standing start and vehicles that use it often have needed assisted takeoff. Sometimes this even involves a rocket assist which is essentially a rocket strapped to the aircraft that powers it up to a high speed at which point the ramjet can take over. These engines work best at supersonic speeds around mach 3 and can go up to Mach 6 (7400 km/hr.)

The scramjet is the upgrade of a ramjet while they share many similarities the major difference is that the scramjet involves the combustion that takes place in supersonic airflow. A ramjet slightly decelerates the air to subsonic speed before combustion whereas with scramjet the entire process is carried out at supersonic speed. The result of all is an extraordinary speed. This kind of technology is still being developed but the theoretical speeds that are involved are mind blowing. It’s thought that scramjets may eventually be able to operate between mach 12 and mach 24.

The Breakthrough

Let’s get back to the SR-72 as I mentioned there were a few years when very little if anything was known about the development of this aircraft. But in 2017 and 2018, a series of tantalizing announcements were made that pointed to some significant breakthrough. At the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics annual SciTech forum in 2018 Lockheed Vice-President Jack O’banion appeared to suggest that trough major advances in 3D printing and computer modeling great strides had been made with SR-72, his presentation came with a new artist’s rendering of the aircraft while he went on to add without the digital transformation. He went on to add that they could not now digitally print the engine with an incredibly sophisticated cooling system integrated into the material of the engine itself. Lockheed carefully skirted the issue after the speech by its Vice-President neither denying nor conforming any progress mode on SR-72.

What We Know Today?

It is very possible that some kind of prototype of SR-72 exists. The internet is awash with images of aircraft that may or may not be the son of blackbird. Lockheed has stated that they aim to have a concept demonstrator in the air sometime by the mid 2020s with a service arrival date now tentatively set for 2030.

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  1. nope, not happening. Thanks to Democrats, the usual assholes