From the minds of Clarence “Kelly” Johnson and Ben Rich came the original Skunk Works, a Lockheed conceptual project initiated in 1943.
The Skunk Works — still alive and thriving today — resulted in ground-breaking aircraft, such as:
- Lockheed P-38 Lightning (unofficial)
- Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star
- Lockheed XF-90
- Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
- Lockheed U-2
- Lockheed X-26 Frigate
- Lockheed YO-3
- Lockheed A-12
- Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
- Lockheed D-21
- Lockheed XST (Have Blue)
- Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk
- Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor
- Lockheed Martin X-35 and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II
- Lockheed X-27
- Lockheed Martin Polecat
- Quiet Supersonic Transport
- Lockheed Martin Cormorant
- Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk
- Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel
- Lockheed Martin X-55
This is an impressive list of airframes from the minds of people unconstrained in their thoughts and willing to push the technological envelope of the times, from every angle.
I proffer that the SR-71 was the most enthralling and technologically advanced aircraft of the entire 20th century and into the 21st. It was an airframe designed, literally, by white male geeks in short-sleeved dry-cleaned white shirts and thin dark ties, wearing brown plastic framed thick glasses, pocket protectors and utilizing wooden slide rules. Computers simply did not exist en masse. They sat at cheap pine tables and produced pages and pages of blue drafts, with hand-lettered notes and ennui enabled by T-squares.
The SR-71 is an aircraft, completely analog, that was allowed to perish due to age and expense. It was, arguably, the costliest aircraft to have ever existed in the USAF inventory.
Since its demise there has been much speculation as to its replacement. Was it Aurora? And what would an Aurora aircraft look like? Would it even be manned, considering the ubiquitous nature of drones today?
And, further, why would you not want a replacement? There exist times of crisis when moving geosynchronous satellites simply won’t do, for two very important reasons: 1) it is too slow, and 2) you can only move a satellite ____ times before you deplete its finite fuel capacity. America had the capability to hustle an SR-71 from Kadena or Beale and be over a trouble spot in as little as an hour or two.
With all that in mind, however, it appears the successor to the incredible SR-71 has been “outed,” if you will, by an article from ExtremeTech.com.
It has been designated the SR-72.
by Sebastian Anthony
Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works has confirmed that it is developing the SR-72 spy plane. The successor to the SR-71 Blackbird, which was capable of Mach 3.5, the SR-72 will be a hypersonic unmanned aircraft capable of Mach 6, or just over 4,500 mph. At hypersonic speeds, the SR-72 will be able to traverse any continent in around an hour — meaning, if they’re strategically positioned around the world on aircraft carriers, the US military can strike or surveil any location on Earth in about an hour. It is also suspected that the SR-72′s hypersonic engine tech — some kind of hybrid scramjet — will find its way into the US military’s High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW), a missile that can theoretically strike anywhere on Earth in just a few minutes.
The SR-72, despite the similar name, is a completely new plane. At the moment, the SR-72 is still only a concept, though Lockheed has now confirmed that the plane is in active development. An optionally piloted scale version of the plane with a single engine will be built in 2018, with test flights scheduled for 2023. If all goes to plan (funding hasn’t yet been secured by Lockheed Martin), a full-size SR-72 (about 100 feet long) will be built and tested by 2030. As it stands, the current plan is for the SR-72 to be unmanned. It will be a very, very large drone. It will probably be unarmed, too, and outfitted entirely for intelligence gathering, though it’s too early to say for sure.
While the SR-72 will undoubtedly be a paragon of stealth and fashioned from monolithic crystals of titanium wrapped in carbon fiber, its defining feature is its operational speed of Mach 6 — or 4,567 mph (7,350 kph). At this speed, the SR-72 can cross the Atlantic (or Europe or China or…) in about an hour — or circumnavigate the planet in six hours. At an operational altitude of around 80,000 feet (24,300 meters) and Mach 6, the SR-72 will be almost impossible to shoot down.
Groom Lake and Area 51: Wonderland all over again.