Lockheed Unveils Plans for SR-72

SR-72

Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense contractor, has unveiled plans for an unmanned successor to the famous SR-71 Blackbird spy plane.

The new twin-engine, hypersonic aircraft, known as SR-72 and nicknamed “Son of Blackbird,” will be designed to fly as fast as Mach 6. That’s six times the speed of sound — more than 3,500 miles per hour — and twice as fast as its predecessor.

Details of the jet were first reported last week by Aviation Week, a trade publication. The Bethesda, Md.-based company wants to fly a missile to demonstrate the technology as soon as 2018. An operational aircraft could be ready by 2030 for surveillance or strike missions.

“Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour,” Brad Leland, Lockheed’s program manager for hypersonics, wrote in a blog post.

“Speed is the next aviation advancement to counter emerging threats in the next several decades,” he added. “The technology would be a game-changer in theater, similar to how stealth is changing the battlespace today.”

Like its predecessor, the aircraft is being developed by the company’s Skunk Works advanced development programs facility in California.

The plane would use a two-phase propulsion system. A standard jet turbine would propel the plane as fast as Mach 3, then a ramjet would kick in and accelerate the craft to hypersonic speeds.

SR-72_engine_diagram

Lockheed has teamed with the engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne, part of Rancho Cordova, Calif.-based GenCorp Inc., to integrate an off-the-shelf turbine with a supersonic combustion ramjet air-breathing jet engine to power the aircraft from standstill to Mach 6.

Lockheed has experimented with hypersonic aircraft before.

The company’s Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2, or HTV-2, an unmanned, arrowhead-shaped glider, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2011 after flying for more than nine minutes and reaching speeds of Mach 20. (A similar flight in 2010 also failed.)

HTV-2

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s advanced technology laboratory, which funded the project, later concluded the HTV-2 aircraft went so fast that its exterior coatings peeled apart from the airframe, creating gaps that caused the vehicle to roll and ultimately break apart.

The SR-72 will draw on lessons learned from the HTV-2 project, but won’t push the hypersonic envelop as far.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • blight_

    Kiss stealth goodbye at this point. Catch me if you can.

  • muguvian

    To be pedantic the secondary propulsion described in the article is a scramjet not a ramjet, which maintains subsonic flow in the combustor.

    • CRam

      I thought Scramjets didn’t start until MACH 6+….

      • Dfens

        More like Mach 7 or 8.

    • Spurlockda

      Really? You are going to go toe to toe with the Skunk Works, DARPA, et al – and tell them they are wrong? Right?

  • Ethan

    It does mention that it would be a dual-mode ramjet. Does that mean that the ramjet would reconfigure to allow for scramjet operation after ignighting as a traditional ramjet?

  • d. kellogg

    As promising as it looks, we’ve all now seen LM’s rather dismal performance getting both the F-22 and F-35 into service within the original timeframes and within original budgets.

    Sadly, there are no more Kelly Johnsons and Rick Whitcombs within the ranks anymore.
    This pipe dream needn’t see a cent of taxpayer-funded R&D wasted on it.
    What again does it bring to the table that the current and next generation hi-res satellites don’t?

  • Dfens

    Kelly Johnson must be rolling over in his grave to see this piece of crap being offered as the successor to the SR-71. It is less stealthy, has way too much base drag, and it is far less aerodynamically efficient than the SR-71. Hell, with that single vertical I doubt it even has enough rudder authority to stay pointy end forward, not to mention what it does to the stealth aspect of the airplane. This is clearly some pipe dream of someone who doesn’t know what the hell they are doing. Hopefully they will have some more serious configurations being presented behind closed doors.

  • RRGED

    How awesome is this if it was to put to fruition!

    • tiger

      It would be more awesome if Social Security would have money for me in 25 years…

      • namae

        Talk about wishful thinking.

  • Next-Generation Bomber, low speed and low altitude penetration. Son of the Blackbird, high speed and hihg altitude penetration.

    • Waldo

      Both NGB and SR72 are/will be huge wastes of resources. Both should focus on the mission and design a system optimized for the mission. The NGB should easily be an unmanned delivery vehicle that launches very high-speed or very stealthy 1,000 mile range missiles – no need for a bomber to penetrate anything. Will the SR72 really be cost-effective for its mission(s)? Satellites are already high speed and high altitude penetration. Whereas the “great” B2 is already known as a supreme waste (per the AF father of the program and its pilots), the NGB and SR72 will just be nation-bankrupting welfare for the defense industry. Been there; lived it from the inside.

  • Hector Q.

    How often do we really need the capabilities of a hypersonic SR aircraft? Yes, I realize there’s stuff that this bird would be able to do that a satellite or the subsonic U-2 can’t. But how often is that, and is it really worth the huge cost of such a program to get these additional capabilities??

    Lockheed’s blog post on the SR-72 brags that the aircraft would be “managed by millions of lines of software code.” Anytime I see the words Lockheed and millions of lines of aircraft computer code, I get worried. If this project is given the green light, it will come in many times over budget, and the time it will take to go from design to fully operational will be measured in decades!

  • Hefe

    I’m a huge fan of weapons that can hit on the first day of war. If realized, this machine will make our enemies soil themselves.

    • d. kellogg

      In that, we’d be further to refine RATTLRS technology to make a Follow-On-To-Tomahawk weapon, a stand off, extreme range, hypersonic, curbstomp 1st-day-of-war strike weapon that’s too fast for an adversary to engage, let alone even track it (if they could see it) and figure out where it’s even going.

      As mentioned earlier, it would take a massive investment by the world’s defense contractors in directed energy weapons to even challenge such hypersonic strike weapons.
      But years ago I recall having read that into certain hypersonic velocities, the ionized, semi-plasma-like heat corona surrounding a hypersonic vehicle could effectively ablate a good portion of the directed energy.
      And if a Shuttle can be coated in heat resistant tiles, couldn’t a hypersonic strike weapon as well, to further ablate any sort of weapon intending to use heat energy to deform it enough to come apart during high speed flight…?
      In that, any sort of directed energy counter-hypersonic weapon would itself need to be airborne and at least supersonic: a ground location, due to terrain, just wouldn’t necessarily afford an ideal engagement envelope.

  • Nicky

    Looks like the SR-72 is the son of SR-71

    • scott

      that was the point

  • oblatt1

    This is just another money making exercise for Lockheed – they cant get the scram-jet technology to work so its time to commercialize !

    As part of the contractor motto – “obsolete from the first day of IOC” – so you can start the follow on project, the SR-72 is easily hit by existing Russian and Chinese air defense systems (designed to intercept mach 12 ballistic missiles) – let alone those two generations now.

  • Paul Blase

    The announcement probably means that it’s been flying for at least a decade. One wonders what exactly the Skunk Works have been doing for the past 20 years or so?

  • Big-B

    Bomber? Recce? I would put a “space shuttle II” on its back and get NASA back into the space game. And if not NASA then Virgin Galactic. Of course then the new name has to be “Eugen Saenger” :-)

    • JEMcKellar

      Isn’t that the point of all these ‘aerospace planes’? It’s not really an SR-72, it’s a giant, manned X-37. The Air Force must have some pipe dream about fighting WW3 in space, and this project fits into it somehow.

  • Lance

    Im with this all the way except one point I would prefer a manned plane with speeds and altitudes your flying having a man instead of a data feed is far more reliable and safe to keep the plane up and prevent it from crashing in a enemy country.

    • Nathan

      At those sorts of speeds the aircraft cannot be controlled by man anyway, and surely the life support system would just add weight and cost?

      I’m also confused as to how a data-feed from a manned plane is somehow safer? Either it is encrypted – or it is not. If the data is considered valuable, then they can consider encrypting it.

      Remember the Hainan Island incidence in 2001 – just because an intelligence aircraft is manned doesn’t mean it can’t be forced down. And worse, the surviving crew can be tortured and interrogated.

      There’s no reason that unmanned aircraft cannot use inertial navigation systems (as commonly used by many civilian and military aircraft). So GPS spoofing – or any other kind of spoofing would be impossible.

  • goldo62

    Another drone “to be stolen” for Iranian?

  • Mike

    There is something flying out there already. Never saw it… but it went thru the TCAS screen in seconds having the range in 80 miles, around 8,000ft westbound near LGB.
    We detected twice within a four month period.
    Couldn’t calculate exact speed but easily over Mac 3. No sonic boom, no cone trails…
    Whatever was it, whoever build it, … Thank you for giving us the chance to be ahead of our current or future enemies!!

    • Musson

      I want to believe.

    • jamesb

      Aurora is STILL out there?

  • Mike
  • rtsy

    This tech sounds a lot like the SABER program being run by the Brits.

  • Jet unveiled….check! Features unveiled….check! Price tag unveiled….incomplete!

  • Big-Dean

    Without Kelly Johnson at the helm this bird will never fly, it’s suck up the entire defense budget and it’ll still be in development in the year 2057

  • Wayne Miller

    Son of Blackbird. The S.O.B.!

  • Gabriel

    Maybe we should finish the F-35 Lightning II before we start another military project that is going to be billions over budget…

    • skynet765

      We borrow $4.1 billion per day now for food stamps. Where does safety stack up with obesity? Our debt increased by $320 Billion overnight the day we reopened the gov in Oct and you whine about a few hundred million. Pathetic.

    • Riceball

      In case you missed, there is no contract out for an SR-72 or even an RFI from Lockheed, as I read it this is purely an internal Lockheed project that if they can get working, at least on paper, they’ll try to pitch to the Air Force.

    • 555SRS

      Yes, we should develop only one aircraft at a time. Finish building all copies of one type before you even start planning another. That makes sense. Not.

  • Bernard

    Its just the same old Aurora concept from 20 years ago. The Cold War is over. Big and pricey is dead, small and cheap and pioletless is in.

  • Rob C.

    I’m torn. Its nice that their potiential that they’ll build a replacement for the SR-71. However, i feel less ….caring about unmanned aircraft. Its like a missile that can fly back. People flying aircraft add something more to the human imagination. Dream dies when they become flying remote control/self-flying R/C Fliers.

    A fast recon aircraft maybe good in limited numbers for the military, specially if they need something to get somewhere in hurray. Why LM is actually advertising this thing before its time seem like a ploy to lure funding for its development in this super-challenging time for government budget. If anything a next generation one-stage to orbit maybe where this puppy may lead us technology wise. To call it SR-72, i don’t know. It be QR-X or something.

  • chrisgoike

    How utterly ridiculous.

    “Hey Gene, remember that plane we sent to the heap all them years ago because it wasn’t cost effective and satellites replaced it, you know the big black one?”
    “Yeah, what about it Rich?”
    “Let’s make a new one, instead of it being a spy plane, we can make it a hypersonic spy plane with hypersonic missiles!”
    “Isn’t that redundant?”
    “Exactly, how’ll they resist?”
    “Hello, Tahiatian bungalow”

  • DefenseTechGuest

    I wonder how high quality a photo you can snap @ mach 6 from xx,000 feet?

  • WulfTheSaxon

    Doesn’t seem ambitious enough to me… How’s it going to fare against a 5 km/s S-500? I’m not convinced it could even get past an S-300, which seems like an essential capability.

    • tiger

      Not ambitious enough? In a bit over 100 years we have gone from Wilbur & Orville Wright to this. In 1913 we had not even invented the fighter or bomber. Speeds were sub 100MPH. Ask Anthony Fokker if he even could dream of a SR-72?

      • WulfTheSaxon

        Not saying it isn’t cool, just that I’m unsure whether it could penetrate Russian air defenses. Now, Blackswift/HTV-3X… Ambitious.

  • anthony

    A good name for the Black bird.

  • navyjag907

    Sequential numbering–that’s a first.

  • traumahawk

    Just another Indy 500 sports car. Goes fast. Not very functional. Turning radius of a MAC truck. Probably come apart at very low G’s. Very expensive POS (piece of sh__).

  • JohnB

    The SR-71 was the meanest looking jet, so far yet the Air Force (SAC) said they could no longer afford the O&M monies, for it. It required specific/special fuel and Tankers and I heard that it was a maintence man’s nightmare. So why build a more advanced version? I guess you could/might add it to the TRIAD, therory.

  • wtpworrier

    I like the design of it but, why not use it for space applications? Might want to be careful with that nick name though.

    • wtpworrier

      If we can to a speed of Mach-20 why not? The problem is not the speed, the problem is where we are flying it. The palnet is in a bubble(atmosphere), with lots of wind resistance, you will never get anything to fly in the Earth’s bubble without breaking up, the only way we could is with shielding. Flying at that speed or faster could be achieved outside the Earth’s atmosphere, in space, a lot less wind resistance.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      “….why not use it for space applications?”

      Design speed of the S.O.B.: Mach 6

      Speed needed for low earth orbit insertion: Approx. Mach 25

      That’s probably why not.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen
      Luxembourg

  • Nathan

    Sigh…I’d much prefer an SR-2 to the SR-72…

  • Boeing X37b

    Boeing already has an operational bird like this that goes into outer space. Much more advanced. Lockheed is laughable.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      Strictly speaking, the X37B (presuming that is what you refer to) does not go into outer space. The humongous booster rocket needed to launch the X37B goes into outer space, and deposits the X37B there.

      Keeping that in mind, please explain the criteria by which the Boeing X37B is “much more advanced” than the proposed Lockheed S.O.B.

      And yes, I am perfectly well aware that the S.O.B. is (barely) a paper project, and the X37B has actually been flown, so we can leave that out.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen
      Luxembourg

  • OD351
  • Muttling

    Development of the SR-71 was started during WW2 and took insane amounts of money over a period of decades. Then it was crazy expensive to operate. As much as I love the SR-72 concept, bankruptcy is a far bigger threat to this country and we can’t afford another bird that has to have a special jet fuel because its tanks leak until the skin of the aircraft heats up enough to seal the seems. These kinds of birds are stupidly expensive to build and to operate, we can’t afford it.

  • R
  • Tim UK

    Erm Lockheed ? The same group of clowns who have produced the F22 and JSF shite fighters ? If so then expect this new fiasco to need a thousand hours of hanger time to fly every hour and the bill to be 100B each and it to be fully operational by 2060.

  • Presley Summers

    Looks like something out of Project Mystic Rain.

  • First it was without the new high tech satellites we were helpless, now without this new multi-billion dollar super aircraft we will be helpless. Who the hell is doing this? Some Congressman/woman is getting filthy rich as is a contractor while the poor militray is getting down sized to pay for it all.

  • Tom Stopski

    Time it takes to develope a new idea? In 1955 I was able to check out the Republic XF103 in full mock up at the factory while delivering F84-Fs to Langley AFB. It incorporated the two engine type concept to obtain speeds beyond Mach 3 and an unusual pilot “capsule;'” with downward ejection and a “periscope” for forward visibilty.A detailed description is available on the internet. Also witnessed the F-105 in full mockup with at that stage had twin engines to generate enough thrust. Ah….memories!

  • bruce

    And nobody here is thinking laser weapons might be a problem?
    Nobody is going to be able to out run light…

  • Patrick

    Shouldn’t it be the son of the XB-70 Valkyrie?

  • Kim Carnochan

    My father was an RSO for the SR71 (John Carnochan)…..would love to know what he thinks about this…but alas…..
    My sister and I have had made contact with Colonel Tom Pugh…who my dad flew with…..i am sure he will have somehting to say or write on this….

    Just wish you were here Dad….i know you would have a lot to say about this.
    Kim

  • Sudsy

    Hey, this looks like the “Aurora” sightings from the 1990’s… Check out Bill Sweetman’s articles in Popular Mechanics and Popular Science about it. Bet you this has been flying for years…

  • Joe Gayton

    Lets just call it Habu on Steroids!

  • Big-Dean

    NEWS RELEASE

    Lockhead Martin, the highly patriotic and honest defense firm who has milked the tax payer of billions of dollars on the still yet unfinished, after 12 years of effort, F-35 aircraft, proudly announces the brand new SR-72 that promises to fly faster than light, carry 12 tons of photon torpedoes and will only cost $57 Billion dollars and will be ready by the year 2078. But this time, they promise to hire a few more American, perhaps 2 or 3 more, to write the code and not outsouce it all out to China.

    (this is sarcasm for those Lockhead mafia who don’t get it)

  • My name Hose Emanus
  • bloke_from_ohio

    First you have to track it. Then you have to have a laser that keeps its beam coherent for 85,000 feet. The atmophere does nasty things to laser beams. Then the beam has to stay on the target long enough to damage it. The ABL was not a pew pew one zap and the missle dies type weapon. You had to “paint” the target long enough to heat it up enough to cause structural damage so it would break itself up.

  • Dan

    I think electromagnetic (coil or rail) launchers may offer interesting alternatives to getting there fast, but at much less cost. We are now making maneuvering re entry vehicles that can reach targets with more flexibility than current ballistic warheads. Such launchers could even use solar or alternative power to charge the capacitors that provide the release of energy for such systems. Operational costs would be very low, more environmentally friendly (until the warhead arrives), and offer many more strike platforms for the same money to field the hypersonic system. However, we should not stop thinking about new technology such as hypersonic – we just need to understand where such new technology will help our forces live within economic realities and remain the most effective on earth.

    • blight_

      Solar? Yuck.

      I suspect space planes will allow fun stuff like FOBS…kick off, fly in from a different angle, cause hell.

  • Wylie C.

    Since we know the ChiComs will hack into and steal the plans, why not just put them on the contact list and charge them up front? Might as well spread the cost around to the ultimate end users. Let’s hope the nitwits who designed Obamacare are not hired for this job, too…

    • blight_

      I say they just put some flawed designs on the intertubes, let the Russians/PRC steal it, apply their brilliant aerospace engineers to the problem, then steal it back.

  • Peter Gelezius

    Never knew what was wrong with the original

  • Robert

    What a waste of money! Just keep the nukes operational and no one will ever bother us who can defeat us. We don’t need such high tech weapons to fight Panama, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan, or any other little countries. Put the money into healthcare, education, and employment opportunities for the taxpayers.

  • omegatalon

    This is 20 years in the making as the technology comes from Lockheed’s X-33 Venturestar program which was a single-stage-to orbit spacecraft which was supposed to been a replacement for the US space-shuttle as the spacecraft would take off like a conventional jet before accelerating to supersonic speeds then hypersonic when the engine jumps into scram-jet mode with linear aerojet rocket motors providing the final push to get the spacecraft into low-earth-orbit as the SR-72 Son of Blackbird may be a proof of technology vehicle before Lockheed asks for funds to re-start the X-33 program; on the other side, this technology can lead to hypersonic cruise missiles, hypersonic fighter jets and possibly even hypersonic long range bombers besides the single-stage-to orbit spacecraft.

  • Georgiamule

    Dang, shore is a pile of high talkin folks reading this stuff bout a purty airplane. Any good ole boys out there read this stuff? Fur instance, what happens of you fall out? How bout gas, and does it come with a 5 gallon can so if you run out you got a little extra to get back home?

    • blight_

      moonshine.

  • ONTIME

    WARP SPEED MR. SULU…….JTK…

    Not so far fetched now it seems and as the tools get better so will will the quality of the products….let’s hope capitalism and the free market stay around….

  • Phono

    Wow, just amazing :-) !

  • corky bell

    The machine may ultimately prove useless, but the technology developed along the way will be priceless.

  • Belisarius

    Project Isinglass, X-24C, TAV, X-33, NASP, Hotol, Skylon.Why would this be funded when they weren’t, especiaslly with an 18 year development period?
    Hypersonic flight is like the manned mission to Mars, it was thought to be in the near future in the 1960s, comes back every few years but gets farther out of reach every time.

  • You know, people need to really shut up about classified operations… We don’t always need to know what we have for military platforms… It’s bad enough that China and Russia, and a few others, steal or technology, without the press spilling the beans…and helping them on the way… Nothing more pisses me off then nosey traitors…

  • gt350

    Is it me , but a F15 ,SR 71 , A 4 , how about a B 58 , or even our space shuttle. am I missing something many other great planes that are still worthy are now not relevant , So a F 35 –? Id like to see the vertical take off in the jungle –that ship has passed. I just read and try to ask people that serve , so I can tell my congressman what to support So we stop production on the F 22 because its to costly , now were back to the F 35 give me a brake, the only NEW plane is F 22. I would like someone to tell me were on the right path cause I just don’t get it.