BLACKBIRD 2: SR-72 Technology Demonstrator Spotted Flying to Lockheed Skunk Works

Very few airplanes hold the mystique of the SR-71. The Blackbird’s speed is the obvious appeal, but the plane just has a look about it that other planes can’t match. So news that there is an SR-72 in the works has people talking. So just what will the new version of the Blackbird look like, and will it live up to all of this hype?

“Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Programs, better known as Skunk Works, might be further along in the development process for the SR-72 than it has let on,” notes Popular Mechanics. “In June, Lockheed announced early progress on the program, and now a source told Aviation Week that they spotted a small demonstrator aircraft landing at Skunk Works facilities in Palmdale, California, possibly associated with early tests for the unmanned SR-72 program.”

The SR-71 was put out to pasture back in 1998.

The new plane is believed to be powered by an engine that combines tecnology from a turbine and a scramjet to reach blistering speeds. Lockheed Martin has been developing the technology with Aerojet Rocketdyne.

“An optionally piloted flight research vehicle (FRV) is also in the works to flight test elements of the SR-72 design,” PM writes. “The FRV will be about the size of an F-22 and use a single combined-cycle engine for propulsion. Development of the FRV is expected to begin next year and first flights could occur as soon as 2020.”

“Leading up to the FRV, Lockheed could be conducting ground and flight tests on even smaller demonstrators, which might explain the small aircraft that was reportedly spotted landing at Lockheed Martin facilities in California.”

For now, the test planes are believed to be remotely piloted.

Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of aeronautics at Lockheed Martin, speaking at the SAE International Aerotech Congress and Exhibition in Fort Worth, Texas, made reference to the new design. “Although I can’t go into specifics, let us just say the Skunk Works team in Palmdale, California, is doubling down on our commitment to speed. Hypersonics is like stealth. It is a disruptive technology and will enable various platforms to operate at two to three times the speed of the Blackbird… Security classification guidance will only allow us to say the speed is greater than Mach 5.”