November 7, 2013
Lockheed Unveils ‘Son Of Blackbird,’ New Hypersonic Spy Plane
Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
While satellites and drones can provide an eye-in-the-sky for those on the ground, the military still has a use for the good old-fashioned spy plane - especially a really speedy one. For years the work of providing a quick look at the ground fell to the Lockheed Martin SR-71 Blackbird, which, as the fastest plane in the world, could fly crews from New York to London in less than two hours.
The Blackbird was capable of reaching speeds exceeding Mach 3 – or three times the speed of sound and altitudes of 85,000 feet – and it set world records that have held for nearly four decades since the plane first took flight in 1976. Those records could be broken by Lockheed Martin’s so-called Son of the Blackbird.
The Lockheed Martin SR-72 is now in the works, and according to the company it will be twice as fast. Unlike the original Blackbird, the successor could actually be deemed a 'warplane' as it will be designed to launch missiles. This could be a serious game changer in a changing world.
“Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour,” said Brad Leland, Lockheed Martin program manager, in a statement. “Speed is the next aviation advancement to counter emerging threats in the next several decades. The technology would be a game-changer in theater, similar to how stealth is changing the battlespace today.”
However, as a warplane it will be one that won’t put a crew at risk. The SR-72, which could fly at speeds of up to Mach 6 – or 1.2 miles per second, fast enough to make it from New York to London in less than hour – is envisioned as an unmanned aircraft. In addition, at six times the speed of sound, the aircraft would be so fast that an adversary would have little or no time to react or hide.
The SR-72 has been on the designing board at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works for several years, and the company has been working with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop a method to integrate an off-the-shelf turbine with a supersonic combustion ramjet, air-breathing jet engine. This would help reduce the costs considerably.
This is not the only cost saving measure. The designers have noted that the SR-71 was developed utilizing 20th-century technology, and was envisioned with slide rules and paper. Computer aided designed (CAD) and 3D imagery has helped with the current process and will certainly bring design costs down. About 20 Lockheed employees are reportedly working on the project according to NBCNews.
The new plane will also be managed by millions of lines of software code, and will be powered by computer chips – both radical changes and major technological leaps forward over its predecessor. While the plane won’t have stealth technology like that found on the B2 Bomber, at speeds nearly six times that of sound, it really won’t need it.
“Hypersonic is the new stealth,” said Leland, who has headed the seven-year research effort. “Your adversaries cannot hide or move their critical assets. They will be found. That becomes a game-changer.”
While the plane boasts the name SR-72, suggesting it is a step up from the original Blackbird, it wasn’t actually Lockheed Martin that suggested that this was the “son” of the original Blackbird. That came from this month’s Aviation Week magazine, which unveiled the plane to the world in their cover story.
Son or not, the Blackbird SR-71’s records might be safe for a little while still, while the enemy might have time to run and hide. While it could enter development in demonstrator form as early as 2018 it likely won’t be operational until 2030. Given the speed of this plane that might be just the head start that enemies on the ground need.