It’s hard to think of an aircraft more iconic than the SR-71 Blackbird. Its design has captured imaginations and lingered in the mind well after it was retired. Well, meet the SR-72, the next Blackbird. It’s going into space.
Admittedly, we’re a long way away from seeing this in any way, shape, or form: Lockheed Martin admits the first demonstration won’t be until 2018 at the earliest. Still, it’s an aircraft that brings out your inner eight-year-old, especially when they obliquely mention space:
A vehicle penetrating at high altitude and Mach 6, a speed viewed by Lockheed Martin as the “sweet spot” for practical air-breathing hypersonics, is expected to survive where even stealthy, advanced subsonic or supersonic aircraft and unmanned vehicles might not. Moreover, an armed ISR platform would also have the ability to strike targets before they could hide.
Yeah, it’s a strike aircraft, unlike the original Blackbird. Which, admittedly, is a bit disturbing when you stop to think about it. But then you remember that A) this thing goes at Mach 6, twice the speed of the original Blackbird and B) realistically, it’s mostly to show off Lockheed Martin’s engineering skill.
And that engineering is impressive. Mach 6 is an incredibly hard speed to reach and has only been done a handful of times, partially because the stresses on the craft are extreme and dying is pretty easy to do at six times the speed of sound. That’s part of the reason the original SR-71 Blackbird is a world record holder for speed with an “air-breathing” jet engine, although obviously the SR-72 will be a bit differently designed, not least by leaving the pilot out of it.
So, while it will probably never happen in reality, there might be a job at some point that can be described as “hypersonic suborbital dogfighter.” You’ve got to love the future.