When CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 aircraft were shot down over Russia in 1960, it not only sparked an international incident but it alerted the Americans to the fact that the U-2 was ultra-vulnerable to being shot down and they needed an alternative reconnaissance platform. Out of that, the SR-71 (nicknamed the ‘Blackbird’) program was born and the world’s fastest and highest flying aircraft was introduced in 1966. After a magnificent 33 year run it too was retired after satellite reconnaissance imagery made it obsolete and other countries developed aircraft and missiles that were thought to be capable of bringing it down. Now the ‘Blackbird’ is said to have a cousin aircraft (the unmanned, hypersonic and yet to be nicknamed SR-72) in development that will once again see a strategic reconnaissance aircraft become the fastest in the world.
Who is developing the aircraft? That would be Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, the very same Lockheed Division that brought us the SR-71, the F-117 stealth fighter and the U-2 aircraft. If it turns out likes its predecessor the SR-71, the SR-72 aircraft will be another one of Skunk Works designs that is way ahead of its time.
Why develop this aircraft? Strategic military planners say they have a need for a reconnaissance platform to get to areas of the globe where there are gaps in satellite and other types of reconnaissance coverage. They want to have an aircraft that is available to fly reconnaissance missions and use its imaging platforms to assess situations as they arise around the globe. Gathering intelligence in highly fluid situations will require an aircraft that can get to an area fast before the situation changes or has moved completely.
The SR-71 was thought to be vulnerable to enemy fire in its later years despite the fact that it could travel faster than Mach 3 (three times the speed of sound), so how fast would this new aircraft have to fly to be safe? Although a lot about the design is still secret, those in the know say it will achieve speeds greater than Mach 6+. The ‘Blackbird’ is well known for having flown from Los Angeles to Washington in just over an hour, so it is incredible to think that an aircraft travelling at Mach 6 can go coast to coast in a little over 30 minutes. The Mach 6 speeds are being made possible by a design done in conjunction with the company Aerojet Rocketdyne, which will produce an air breathing engine that will combine a traditional turbine with a scramjet (supersonic combusting ramjet).
There will probably be one big difference between the SR-71 and the SR-72. When the SR-71 was first thought up, it was envisioned as a high speed bomber too, but in reality the aircraft was never fitted with armaments that we know of. Current thinking about the future of the SR-72 is that it will be fitted with some type of strike capability and why not when you have an aircraft that most likely will be untouchable by any type of air defense for years to come.
It will be interesting to keep an eye on what is going on with the SR-72 as it nears its predicted design completion date in 2018.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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