Skunk Works Just Revealed New Details About The SR-71 Blackbird's Ultra-Secret Successor

Gear
Photo via DoD/Wikimedia Commons

The SR-71 Blackbird — the long-range Mach 3 recon and strike jet dreamed up by Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works division, world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft, and preferred delivery craft for unusually talented multinational paramilitary squads — may be among the most awe-inspiring aircraft in the history of manned flight, engineered to literally outrun enemy missiles with the slip of a switch. And while the iconic hypersonic jet was retired by the Air Force in 1990, its successor’s elegant design may scream across the horizon sooner than expected.


In an interview with Aviation Week, Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs chief Rob Weiss revealed new details of the SR-72, the proposed ultra-secret Blackbird successor designed to reach Mach 6 with advanced hypersonic technology developed by Skunk Works and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. And according to the Skunk Works chief, the company is inching toward a “sufficiently mature” flight demonstrator.

“We’ve been saying hypersonics is two years away for the last 20 years, but all I can say is the technology is mature and we, along with DARPA and the services, are working hard to get that capability into the hands of our warfighters as soon as possible,” Weiss told Aviation Week.

The revelations from Weiss are the first since Lockheed Martin and the Air Force announced the development of an SR-72 flight demonstrator in 2013.

Over the last four years, Skunk Works has been busy. While technical details of the next-gen recon jet’s engines are (obviously) scant, Aviation Week notes that Lockheed Martin partnered with aerospace and defense firm Aerojet Rocketdyne in 2006 to develop a combined cycle engine that, by incorporating the more advantageous functions of a scramjet, could accelerate the SR-72 to Mach 6 in minimal time.

The SR-71B Blackbird, flown by the Dryden Flight Research Center as NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight. SR-71B was the trainer version of the SR-71.Photo via DoD/Wikimedia Commons

“The combined cycle work is still occurring and obviously a big breakthrough in the air-breathing side of hypersonics is the propulsion system,” Weiss told Aviation Week. “So this is not just on combined cycle but on other elements of propulsion systems.”

According to Weiss, the SR-72 demonstrator’s development is based on the HTV-3X reusable hypersonic demonstrator, developed as part of DARPA’s Falcon program but scrapped by the Air Force in 2008. And following what Weiss described as “critical” ground tests, Lockheed Martin is “on track to begin development of an optionally piloted flight research vehicle (FRV)” by 2018, with flight testing by the late 2020s, according to Aviation Week.

“I can’t give you any timelines or any specifics on the capabilities. It is all very sensitive,” Weiss told the magazine. “Some of our adversaries are moving along these lines pretty quickly and it is important we stay quiet about what is going on.”

Let’s just hope it handles better than the X-Men’s ride:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid $13,000 over a three-month period for a senior official's biweekly commute to Washington from his home in California, according to expense reports obtained by ProPublica.

Read More Show Less
Saturday Night Live/screenshot

President Donald Trump said that "retribution" should be "looked into" after this week's opening skit of Saturday Night Live featured Alec Baldwin being mean to him again.

Read More Show Less
Staff Sgt. John Eller conducts pre-flights check on his C-17 Globemaster III Jan. 3 prior to taking off from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii for a local area training mission. Sgt. Eller is a loadmaster from the 535th Airlift Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

CUCUTA, Colombia — The Trump administration ratcheted up pressure Saturday on beleaguered Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, dispatching U.S. military planes filled with humanitarian aid to this city on the Venezuelan border.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan speaks at the annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (Reuters) - Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Saturday he had not yet determined whether a border wall with Mexico was a military necessity or how much Pentagon money would be used.

President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval.

Read More Show Less
A pair of U.S. Navy Grumman F-14A Tomcat aircraft from Fighter Squadron VF-211 Fighting Checkmates in flight over Iraq in 2003/Department of Defense

Since the sequel to the 1986 action flick (and wildly successful Navy recruitment tool) Top Gun, was announced, there's been a lot of speculation on what Top Gun: Maverick will be about when it premieres in June 2020. While the plot is still relatively unclear, we know Tom Cruise will reprise his role as Naval aviator Pete "Maverick" Mitchell, and he'll be joined by a recognizable costar: The iconic F-14 Tomcat.

It looks like the old war plane will be coming out of retirement for more than just a cameo. A number of recently surfaced photos show an F-14 Tomcat aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, alongside Cruise and members of the film's production crew, the Drive's Tyler Rogoway first reported earlier this week.

Read More Show Less