Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works reveals a Mach 6 strike successor of SR-71 Blackbird dubbed SR-72

Nov 01 2013 - 37 Comments

It looks like Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, the legendary division that designed airplanes which represented a giant leap for their times such as the F-104, the U-2, the Blackbird family or the F-117A stealth fighter jet, has eventually revelead to AW&ST’s Guy Norris the existence of a project for an Hypersonic strike aircraft dubbed SR-72.

“After years of silence on the subject, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has revealed exclusively to AW&ST details of long-running plans for what it describes as an affordable hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. Dubbed the SR-72, the twin-engine aircraft is designed for a Mach 6 cruise, around twice the speed of its forebear, and will have the optional capability to strike targets.”

AW&ST has the detailed story of the new platform, that guided by the X-51, Falcon HTV-2 and other hypersonic development programs on which U.S.’s perspective strike capability is being tailored, will be capable to hit or perform ISR of fast-moving targets, located in high-lethality areas at intercontinental ranges.

Interestingly, a Lockheed SR-72 concept image was released. The shape is coherent with the most recent hypersonic designs and it is quite similar to at least one of those published in April 2013 on LM’s Code One article about the configurations studied since the early ’60s for an SR-71 Blackbird replacement.

Noteworthy, the shape and operational speed of the U.S. next generation strike bomber is much different from Russia’s next generation stealth strategic bomber PAK-DA concept.

SR-72 new

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

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  • Is an hypersonic vehicle viable as an ISR platform ? In the IR band, at high speeds, this thing is going to be as stealthy as a giant blowtorch…

    • Stijn Vandamme

      Why would it have to be Stealthy? at Mach 6, nothing is going to catch it. By the time they see it, it’s gone again.

      • Tomcat

        Lasers are the only reasonable weapon I see that could counter this as an ISR asset. However, you’d have to know it’s coming and have the laser on target as soon as It’s within range as it’ll quickly be out of range before you can “cook” any of it.

        • Stijn Vandamme

          Agreed… + at Mach 6 it will be plenty hot on it’s own, it will need heat resistant outer skin either way.

        • jenkem5

          Actually the Chinese are working on particle beam and plasma beam tech. And they are spending hundreds of billions on advanced research while we are now spending money on “muslim outreach and diversity” programs.

          • Aron

            Evidence? Or just more xenophobic nonsense. Go back to Stormfront.

          • Jim Gatt

            Yea we need to quit Building Roads & Bridges in Afghanistan & Start spending that money back in the States. Building weapons & Designing new ones for the future creates Jobs. Add an Infrastructure Bill, Building Monuments, Dams, Bridges & Roads would get the REAL Economy back on its feet…
            This is Something Obama Cant do & the New Republicans Wont Do…
            SO Without getting to Political this is why the Military Industrial Complex & weapon systems are spread across the states, & hard to cancel cuz they’ll cost jobs…

      • Ronnie Fairley

        The is mack 6 missiles and a slower missle can shoot it down heads on….

        • Stijn Vandamme

          they had mach 3 missiles when the SR71 was around.. They could never lock on and be close enough at launch to even get near it.
          Missiles only run for a minute and then they run out of fuel. So to shoot at something going Mach 6, you need something going twice as fast..

          • OR

            You mean SR71 had never flown close enough to their lunch positions to give them that chance to lock on them?:-)

      • phuzz

        But if it’s moving that fast, it won’t be able to turn very quickly, so a load of shrapnel in it’s path might cause a lot of inconvenience…

        • Stijn Vandamme

          how will you get a load of shrapnell up to that altitude in time? the thing travels at 120 km a minute. When you see it, it’s already gone.

      • Indianapolis Jones

        Because if you detect it entering your airspace you might have a couple minutes to throw a blanket over the scud launchers/mass graves/ark of the covenant before it gets there and starts taking paparazzi pictures.

        • Stijn Vandamme

          fat chanse, Mach 6 is 2km/sec, in a couple of minutes that thing is 240 km’s further.. IR detection won’t work at such distances, so when you see it, it’s already gone.

          • jenkem5

            Actually genius, at 120,000 ft you’d have the aircraft in visual range for a very long time due to the extreme altitude. (The earth is round dude…) This is scramjet technology it only operates at max speeds at barely existent air in the stratosphere. The speed alone is it’s defense. And IR detection works thousands of miles out into space wizard. Where do you pseudo ‘rocket scientists’ come from anyway?

    • Revive Revival

      But you’d never be able to shoot it down

      • OR

        Even using a similar platform?

        • Chris B

          S-500 should make light work of it.

      • Paul Doyle

        A chemically powered ground- or air-based 20 kw CO2 laser could take this SR-72 aircraft down with just a 20 second exposure, no matter its speed or the altitude.

        Both the U.S. and Russia already have such weapons.

    • jenkem5

      At 120,000 feet there’s nothing that could shoot it down at a hypersonic rate of speed. By the time a enemy early warning radar acquired it and launched a SAM it will be out of range and the missile will run out of fuel long before getting anywhere near the aircraft. It will not be able to be shot down at max speed and ceiling. Stealth is out the window with this technology. So I guess you’re just really not that smart. IR band? What do you think they are going to shoot it down with a Sidewinder?

      • As another poster mentioned, lasers are most promising option – even an hypersonic vehicle with heat shielding can only absorb so much heat from non-aerodynamic sources. Of course such lasers are only in early development – but so are hypersonic aircraft.

        The next best thing I imagine could be an hypothetical THAAD, S500 or Arrow derivative taking hypersonic
        aircraft into account. But as you mention, even with those super-missiles the engagement envelope will be slim and it will take a pretty dense and well-organized air defense network to have a chance. Lesser opponents will only be able to enjoy the show on their IRST…

        • kalish

          or you could heat their cooling system making the whole disfunctional, no need of so much power.

  • Ritchie

    That image reminds me some conceptual drawings about the secret (¿and fictional?) Aurora.

  • Ax5tin

    Is this thing manned? or a drone? I must have missed that in the article.

    • Adam Holtz


  • docsavage

    This has been flying for years… it’s all based on the Aurora protocol and other black platforms. Been waiting for years for them to announce!

  • Dude

    Thought US was broke?

  • Forrest Waller

    Ok, Lockheed. Where’s my flying car?

  • kosmos224

    Ace Combat 3!!!

  • Kocsis János

    The wing planform is totally a T-50 afterthought or copy. Why bomb at Mach 6? Call me up when I can afford a ticket to ride!

    • C_Low

      “Why bomb at Mach 6?”

      Go see the recent Israeli strikes on Syria using speed and altitude/speed/ballistics to lob bombs into Syria at well over bomb spec ranges without entering enemy air space. Then pull out that ole calculator and multiple the speed 4-6, altitude by 2, rework the problem, and look at that new X.

      This thing will basically make every JDAM (improved heat shielding/jacked up guidance) into very long range hyper sonic weapons without all the cost of every bomb needing the engine to accelerate.

      Game Changer.

  • Flavio Antonio Hernandez Navar

    s-350 = 6.8 mach
    s-400 = 12-14 mach

  • Armchair Aviationist

    Check the interesting photo in this *2007* Aviation Week blog post.
    SR-72 Revealed

  • FoilHatWearer

    With the record that these guys have, I’ll bet it actually worked, too.

  • minimay7

    I found a picture of the cockpit with the pilot in it!

  • vegass04 .

    Lockheed, along with Aerojet Rocketdyne, has made some great leaps forward recently regarding hypersonic flight, specifically scramjet engine technology. Since that was the greatest hurdle to cross, I wouldn’t be surprised if prototypes are already flying in Area 51. But then again, since this technology would be a huge step forward and a major advantage over Russia and China, i kind of doubt it they would just reveal it to the press. This things are cooked up deep in the black budget programs and you sure wouldn’t read about it on the internet, especially not information got directly from Lockheed’s representative.

  • RWC8

    Good grief there are a load of dumb asses here- Mach 6 is definitely not immune from missiles!!
    Just as the soviets did with the Blackbird,it’s easy to track such a plane from a great distance.That means it’s relatively easy to have something waiting on it’s likely route.
    The soviets did this against the blackbird thirty years ago!

    All they need to neuter the SR72 the same way is to develop a faster missile, and that’s relatively trivial