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, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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