Earlier last month, Lockheed Martin strongly hinted that they’re developing the world’s first hypersonic plane, the SR-72. NASA recently made videos of the SR-72’s predecessor public on YouTube. Developed in the 1960s, the SR-71 remains the fastest manned aircraft ever flown.
Lockheed Martin initially developed designs for the SR-71 in the 1950s but kept the project under wraps. The planes could reach speeds of up to 2,200 mph or Mach 3. Not only would they reach those speeds, the planes could sustain them for over an hour at a time. Its maximum altitudes came in at nearly 26,000 meters (85,000 feet). This allowed the Blackbirds to become the perfect platforms for research and thermal experiments.
NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center released two clips showing the speed, versatility, and power of these planes which were once thought to change the future of aviation.
The two-seater variations of the SR-71 Blackbirds were used as reconnaissance planes from 1964 – 1998. During the 1990s, NASA crews operated four Lockheed SR-71 planes. Two of those were used for research, but two were used by the U.S. Air Force during reconnaissance missions.
How exactly could these planes sustain such rapid speeds? According to NASA, “Less than 20 percent of the total thrust used to fly at Mach 3 was produced by the engine itself, however. During high-speed cruise conditions, the balance of total thrust was produced by the unique design of the engine inlet and a moveable conical spike at the front of each engine nacelle. Under these conditions, air entering the inlets bypassed the engines, going directly to the afterburners and ejector nozzles, thus acting as ramjets.”
Lockheed Martin only built 32 Blackbirds. However, the company wants to exceed the SR-71s considerably. A hypersonic plane has been in the works since the end of the SR-71s. The U.S. Air Force announced steps had been taken for a SR-72 demonstrator in 2013. However, no details existed after that announcement until this summer.
The company’s Advanced Development Programs (aka Skunk Works) discussed the SR-72 and its development within ADP’s advanced aircraft-development division. Lockheed did an interview with Aviation Week and hinted that more details were on the way.
“We’ve been saying hypersonics [are] 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,” said Lockheed Martin executive vice president and Skunk Works general manager Rob Weiss.
The SR-72 planes could clock in at speeds of more than 3,000 mph (4,800 km/hour). Ideally, they’d be used in global emergency response during a time of crises rather than travel needs. The SR-72 will certainly catapult aerospace engineering and military aircraft into places it’s never been before. However, these videos show exactly how powerful these future planes could be given their predecessors.
Featured Image Courtesy of the United States Air Force via Wikipedia Creative Commons