In 1998, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane was retired from service, and no plane has come anywhere near serving a similar role. With an announcement from Lockheed Martin Corp. last week, the supersonic stealth spy plane is about to reach a new renaissance with the SR-72, which media outlets are affectionately calling "Son of Blackbird."
The SR-71 was a twin-engine, two-seat supersonic spy plane the U.S. military built in the late 1960's. The SR-72 is completely unmanned and flies six times faster than the speed of sound (roughly 3500 mph).
The details of Lockheed's new project slipped out after Aviation Week magazine ran a cover story inviting its readers to "Meet the SR-72 'Son of Blackbird.' " Here's an image that was included with the blog:
The SR-72's revolutionary speed permits the company to boast that the plane can reach anywhere in the world in less than an hour of flight time. Speaking with Reuters, Lockheed Martin's hypersonic program manager Brad Leland said "Hypersonic is the new stealth... Your adversaries cannot hide or move their critical assets. They will be found. That becomes a game-changer."
Lockheed expects to have a prototype available in less than six years for under $1 billion in development. If that schedule is kept, fully operational SR-72s could potentially be flying in 2030. The plane is being developed in the same research lab in California that worked on the SR-71 and the famous U-2 spy plane.
The news arrives in the wake of pressure on the Pentagon from Lockheed, Boeing, and other major defense corporations to not stop funding the development of new aircraft. The companies argued that, in spite of massive military spending cuts, the Pentagon should continue funding new development to maintain U.S. air superiority.
If you're interested in checking out the specifics of Lockheed's new spy plane, the AviationWeek.com article features an enlightening series of graphics comparing the SR-72 with the SR71.[Main image via YouTube]