‘Son of Blackbird’: Plan for a new spy plane
Engineers are developing a hypersonic aircraft that could fly six times the speed of sound.
(CNN) — For a big chunk of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force turned to the SR-71 Blackbird for many of its most important spy missions. The jet-black jet could fly at more than three times the speed of sound at altitudes of 85,000 feet, faster and higher than anything adversaries had to counter it.
The last of the Blackbirds flew in 1999, and the U.S. military hasn’t had anything close since.
Now, Lockheed-Martin, the maker of the SR-71, says the “Son of the Blackbird,” the SR-72, is in the works, and it will be twice as fast as and way more lethal than its father. That’s because the SR-72 will be designed to launch missiles, something the SR-71 didn’t do.
“Even with the SR-71, at Mach 3, there was still time to notify that the plane was coming, but at Mach 6, there is no reaction time to hide a mobile target,” Brad Leland, Lockheed Martin’s program manager for hypersonics, told Aviation Week and Space Technology. The publication provided the first detailed look at the SR-72 plans last week.
“Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour,” Leland said in a news release.
And, by the way, the SR-72 is envisioned as a drone, unlike the original Blackbird with its crew of two: a pilot and a reconnaissance officer to operate its radar jammers and spy gear.
“The SR-71 was developed using 20th-century technology. It was envisioned with slide rules and paper. It wasn’t managed by millions of lines of software code. And it wasn’t powered by computer chips. All that changes with the SR-72,” Lockheed Martin says.
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