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Spy Plane Of Tomorrow: The SR-72

April 9, 2014


via Lockheed Martion

Via Lockheed Martin.

The conceptual  SR-72 won’t enter production for years to come although Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the original supersonic SR-71 Blackbird, the F-22, and the controversial F-35, envisions hypersonic flights by 2030.

First unveiled in a webpage on their official site last November, the SR-72 is the latest from Lockheed Martin’s fabled R&D wing, the Advanced Development Projects, or Skunk Works. (It’s a registered trademark.)

The SR-72 is a UAV powered by twin hybrid turbine driven ramjet engines that can reach 6,000 mph or Mach 6. This speed will theoretically evade long-range SAMs and strengthen the SR-72’s unspecified  stealth features. No SR-72 prototypes are known to exist.

The original SR-71 was meant to function as a high altitude supersonic spy plane–what would now be called an ISR or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance craft–flying at 3,000 mph or Mach 3. At that speed, it took the SR-71 little more than an hour to traverse the continental United States from coast to coast as it sliced through the stratosphere.

The SR-71 proved an essential Cold War intelligence tool together with its older sibling the U-2 and various orbital satellites. Beginning in 1966, the sleek delta-winged twin engine Blackbird was one of the first genuine stealth aircraft in service. Thanks to a sturdy titanium air frame assembled with special titanium machining equipment, the Blackbird could withstand scorching temperatures as high as 250 C°. Its moniker came from the coat of radar retardant paint that lent it an ominous appearance.

For an aircraft more than a hundred feet long the Blackbird only had one pilot and another crew member to handle the various ISR instruments it carried.

By 1990, however, there was little use for the Blackbird and the fleet was withdrawn from service. NASA reportedly kept a few for experimental purposes but retired them in 1999. With the advent and proliferation of UAVs and sophisticated online data-mining, large continent spanning spy planes are increasingly scarce.

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