This is the successor to the SR-71 Blackbird, and it is gorgeous

November 1, 2013

(Photo by Lockheed Martin)

The SR-71, arguably the country's most recognizable spy plane after the U-2, was retired in 1998. But like many human retirees of the same generation, what became known as the Blackbird has had a healthy post-retirement career. From appearances in the "X-Men" franchise to cameos in the "Transformers" series, this super-speedy jet has taken off in modern popular culture.

So it's only natural that the Blackbird's successor might inspire similar appeal. More than a decade after the last SR-71 was decommissioned, Lockheed Martin has unveiled the gorgeous-looking SR-72. It flies just as far and twice as fast as its predecessor — and, in a twist, it's now lethal, according to Aviationweek:

The SR-72 is being designed with strike capability in mind. “We would envision a role with over-flight ISR, as well as missiles,” Leland says. Being launched from a Mach 6 platform, the weapons would not require a booster, significantly reducing weight. The higher speed of the SR-72 would also give it the ability to detect and strike more agile targets. “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. It is unavoidable ISR,” he adds.

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.

From Lockheed's mock-ups, there doesn't appear to be a bubble for the pilot — which suggests a windowless cockpit or fantasies about a future unmanned version of the plane. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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