SR-72 in the works?

By Vago Muradian – Staff writer, Air Force News

Ten years after the Air Force retired the SR-71 spy plane, Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works appears to be back at work developing a new Mach-6 reconnaissance plane, sources said.

The Air Force has awarded Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects arm a top-secret contract to develop a stealthy 4,000-mph plane capable of flying to altitudes of about 100,000 feet, with transcontinental range. The plan is to debut the craft around 2020.

sr-72.jpgThe new jet — being referred to by some as the SR-72 — is likely to be unmanned and, while intended for reconnaissance, could eventually trade its sensors for weapons.

The new aircraft would offer a combination of speed, altitude and stealth that could make it virtually impervious to ground-based missiles, sources said. Even the SR-71 is said to have evaded hundreds of missiles fired at it during its long career, although some aircraft sustained minor damage.

But experts say enormous challenges remain. First, the SR-71’s top speed was about 2,200 mph. Pushing a plane at twice that speed in the thin air of the upper stratosphere would require exceptionally powerful engines. Second, friction at high speeds could reduce stealth.

“An aircraft with these characteristics could prove a potent response to anti-satellite weapons,” said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. “If U.S. reconnaissance satellites were lost, an SR-72 could get to areas of interest quickly and provide persistent surveillance in place of the satellite.”

And don’t bother asking the Air Force or Skunk Works executives about their work. None is commenting.

“As a matter of policy, we don’t talk about classified programs — whether or not they exist,” Lockheed’s Tom Jurkowsky said.

One Response

  1. I’ll never forget the times I saw the SR-71.
    The first time was McConnell AFB in Wichita, Ks. As a military policeman, when we received our orders over the radio, we knew something big was about to happen. All access points to the flight line area were to be closed by our mobile units, and individual armed policemen…ASAP! At no time were we to leave our posts, until ordered. Then here it came, a plane we knew existed, but to see it for the first time, in all of it’s Top Secret glory, as it landed and taxied to a hangar, was breathtaking. It was taxied directly into an empied out hangar, and only personnel with Top Secret or above clearances could get near it. It was covered with a tarp, the hangar doors closed, and personnel were assigned all around the building with access denied to anyone. Finally, some other aircraft landed, and they were escorted to the hangar. It was a maintenance crew, and a group of security police(with Top Secret clearances), brought in just for the Blackbird. They had armed guards inside and outside the hangar, while the maintenance crew worked on it. Then another plane with a refueling crew and fuel, which was very special, arrived. I wasn’t around to see it take-off the next morning, but heard it was awe inspiring.
    I next saw the SR-71 at the USAF Academy, on graduation day for the Zoomies. There was a fly by of every aircraft in the USAF inventory, and when the SR-71 flew over, and ignited all four of it’s afterburners on it’s Mach 3+ engines, all you could see was a big ball of fire in the sky, then it was gone.
    My favorite story of the SR-71 in action, was after Reagan had Libya attacked. The SR-71’s were ordered over for photos, so the damage assessment could be made. As they fled Libya, SAM missiles were fired at it. They outran the SAM’s!!!

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