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    Lockheed Martin Announces SR-71 Blackbird Successor
    Lockheed Martin has unveiled news that a Mach 6 capable successor to the legendary SR-71 Blackbird could be demonstrated as soon as 2018. As well as a reconnaissance, the aircraft could be used as delivery platform for a new generation of hypersonic missiles.|Read More|

    Brad Leland, the Lockheed engineer who has headed the seven-year research effort, said the new aircraft, dubbed the SR-72, was designed using off-the-shelf materials to keep it affordable in the current tough budget environment.

    He said the new plane offered game-changing capabilities to the military - and a twin-engine demonstrator jet that could reach any target in an hour could be developed for under $1 billion in five to six years.

    The jet accelerates by way of a two-part system. A conventional jet turbine helps boost the aircraft up to Mach 3, at which point a specialized ramjet takes over and pushes the plane even faster into hypersonic mode.

    Using a new hypersonic engine design that combines turbines and ramjets, the company says that the unmanned SR-72 will be twice as fast as its predecessor with a cruising speed of Mach 6. The SR-72’s purpose is to provide the United States with not only a hypersonic recon platform, but also a strike aircraft as well. 'Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour,' says Brad Leland, Lockheed Martin program manager, Hypersonics.

    Leland explained that the retirement of the SR-71 left significant gaps in the satellites, subsonic manned and unmanned platforms meant to replace it, which the SR-72 will fill.

    The SR-71 Blackbird is one of history’s great aircraft. It was built during the Cold War in the early 1960s by Lockheed at its secret Skunk Works facility and flew from 1966 to 1998. With black paint covering its unprecedented titanium fuselage, it was designed as a reconnaissance platform capable of flying 2,900 nautical miles (5,400 km) at sustained supersonic speeds at an altitude of 80,000 ft (24,000 m). The Blackbird could fly so fast and so high that it could literally outrun enemy missiles, and routinely did..

    Details of the new hypersonic spy plane project emerged days after Lockheed, the Pentagon's biggest supplier, teamed up with No. 2 supplier Boeing Co (BA.N) to develop a bid for the Pentagon's new long-range bomber. Lockheed, Boeing and other big weapons makers are pressing the Pentagon to continue funding new aircraft development programs despite big cuts in military spending, arguing that a retreat from such projects could undercut U.S. military superiority in years to come.

    Lockheed declined to say how much it had invested in the SR-72 project to date, or what the new airplane might cost if it is ever built. But it said it had tried to keep the current tight budget environment in mind while working on the project. 'What we are doing is defining a missile that would have a small incremental cost to go at hypersonic speed,'

    One key factor in keeping the new project affordable was a decision to limit speed to Mach 6, rather than reaching for higher speeds that would require more expensive materials such as those used on the space shuttle, Leland said. Top Pentagon officials had been briefed on the program's progress and they were very interested in the new technology as a possible way to counter work by potential adversaries on technologies that could detect stealth aircraft.

    Leland said Lockheed had worked closely with Aerojet Rocketdyne, a unit of GenCorp Inc (GY.N), to develop a propulsion system for the new aircraft, which uses an 'off-the-shelf' turbine with a scramjet engine to reach the hypersonic speeds.

    The project builds on HTV-3X, an earlier hypersonic project funded by the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that was canceled in 2008 after its turbojet engines were found not ready for further development.

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    Posted on Monday, November 11 @ 08:14:12 MST by sonicbom
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