When someone says the name “Blackbird”, what do you think of? If you’re anything like me and many others, the first thing that comes to find is the ever famous, Cold War era SR-71. Many people however, don’t think of, or even know about the Sr-71’s alleged hypersonic successor, the SR-72 “Son of Blackbird”. The SR-72 is an aircraft that surprisingly, the USAF has not been keeping much of a secret. This is precisely why I find this plane so interesting. When it comes to highly classified aircraft, the USAF and Skunkworks have always been highly secretive. Why the sudden change? If you’ve been asking yourself this question, or just want to learn more about the SR-72, stay tuned. I have everything you need to know!
Before getting into more of the nitty gritty stuff surrounding the SR-72, I’d first like to go over a bit of its background in the world of aviation. Not only is the SR-72s background interesting, but it is important to keep note of as it helps explain many questions that I’ll get into later.
The first reports of the so-called “Son of Blackbird” rolled in in the year 2007. The reports revolving around the SR-72’s existence were little in numbers at first as almost no public information was made available. However, this all changed on November 1st 2013 when Aviation Week & Space Technology published an article outlining the current development of the SR-72 by Lockheed Martin Skunkworks. These are the first reports that starting making people wonder what was going on with this mysterious aircraft,
Lockheed Martin however is not the only corporation publicly participating in the development of the “Son of Blackbird”. Another, slightly smaller company, Aerojet Rocketdyne partnered with Lockheed Martin to help in the development of a new propulsion system for the SR-72. This can be seen in the form of several NASA contracts made to both companies in 2014. Both of these contracts were somewhere in the ballpark of 1 million dollars and were provided to Lockheed and Aerojet in order to conduct feasibility research on the new engine. The next set of public announcements regarding the SR-72 didn’t come until 2016 and 2017 when Lockheed Martin stated that the SR-72 would be possible to produce for under 1 billion dollars and would start development in 2020. Personally, I find it interesting how public skunkworks is about the production process of the SR-72 considering how secretive they’ve been with other, similar aircraft in the past. I’ll get into why I find this so interesting later, but for now, let’s dig into what the SR-72 actually is.
The alleged design for the SR-72 is unlike any other aircraft I have ever seen. If the reports from Lockheed Martin are correct, the SR-72 seems much more like a missile than an aircraft. The fact that the “Son of Blackbird” is so much more unique than most other aircraft is what makes it so interesting to speculate about.
One thing about the SR-72 that’s different from many aircraft today is that it is said to be unmanned. Unmanned aircraft are becoming much more mainstream nowadays but that doesn’t make the SR-72 any less special. What makes the “Son of Blackbird” different from say, an MQ-1 Predator or any other drone is that it’s fast. Really fast.
Another thing I find quite interesting about the supposed SR-72 is that its main goal is to achieve sustained hypersonic speeds. This would be the first time a hypersonic aircraft has flown since the days of the X-15. What makes the SR-72 different from the X-15 however, is that the SR-72 is not only meant to go fast, but also far. One key aspect of any reconnaissance and intelligence aircraft is that they need to go far away and make it back home. The SR-71 had an impressive range of 3000 miles but the SR-72 supposedly will reach a whopping range of 14000 miles! The engine that Lockheed and Aerojet have spent so much time developing is the heart and soul of this aircrafts performance. Without its special propulsion system, these numbers wouldn’t be possible.
Something that Lockheed Martin made very clear is that they wanted the SR-72 to be hypersonic, but they did not want the aircraft to have multiple, separate engine systems. The solution that Lockheed and Aerojet came up with is known as a TBCC system. TBCC stands for: Turbine-Based Combined Cycle system. In layman’s terms, this means that the engine would have the ability to transform from a turbojet engine into a scramjet engine by diverting the engines intake flow at the correct time. So in a sense, the SR-72 would still be using two engines, but at the same time it wouldn’t. It’s complicated. Either way, this was Lockheed Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s solution to the problem. Another interesting thing to note about the SR-72s engine is the use of 3d printing technologies to incorporate an internal cooling system that otherwise would be nearly impossible to produce.
Perhaps the most intriguing part about the SR-72’s design is the fact that it is intended to be a multi-role aircraft! The SR-71 dabbled a bit in this arena with the development of the YF-12 interceptor, but the design never really took off. Not only is the SR-72 supposed to be a reconnaissance aircraft, but supposedly it will also be a hypersonic missile delivery system. It’s pretty much a missile carrying more missiles! At the moment there is no specific payload that the SR-72 would carry, but it’s still quite interesting as it is.
I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist. In fact I don’t consider myself one at all. I do however, think that the SR-72 has already been produced and is currently flying in the skies above us. If it’s not the SR-72, then it must be something else. This belief is not without reason either.
Aside from this alleged plane’s history and its supposed design, something interesting to note is that Skunkworks has denied speculation about the SR-72 multiple times. The first time this occurred was in 2018 when Lockheed Martin publicly stated that no SR-72 had been produced and that it was still in the development process. Another thing Lockheed Martin stated in 2018 is that the first prototype of this aircraft would fly in 2025 and it would carry hypersonic missiles. I am in no way saying that Lockheed Skunkworks is lying, But if I their past history with covering up classified aircraft says anything, it’s that they aren’t necessarily the most reliable source out there. It almost seems as if they’re hiding it in plain sight. But I digress.
What Has The USAF Been Doing For The Past 20+ Years?:
In my opinion, the most damning evidence for the existence of the SR-72 is the fact that without it, the USAF would have been flying blind for 20+ years. With the retirement of the SR-71 in 1999, the United States Air Force was left with no reconnaissance aircraft and thus, would have an extreme lack of international intelligence. In a modern day war theater this is unacceptable. But why? With advancements in satellight imaging technology, why would the USAF need an aircraft? The main advantage that spy-planes have over satellights is flexibility. Satellights can not change course and can really only take photos. Spy-planes can alter their course at any time, take higher quality images and video, collect different types of data, and can cover different areas much more efficiently. To think that the United States Air Force has been going 20 plus years without any sort of reconnaissance aircraft in service is ridiculous. Not only would the SR-72 serve as a recon aircraft, but also a long-range strike platform. This is why I believe that the United States has been flying the SR-72 for awhile now. If it’s not the SR-72, then it must be something else because there is no way the United States would shoot themselves in the foot by retiring the SR-71 unless they had something to replace it.
Like I’ve said multiple times in this post, the idea that the SR-72 is already flying is only speculation and will remain to be speculation unless someone comes out and says otherwise. That being said, if it’s not already flying, it will be. Skunkworks readily admits that; which is not something you see very often. Weather or not you believe the SR-72 is already dominating our skies is up to you. But I do hope this was able to provide some insight into this rather mysterious aircraft. If you enjoyed feel free to drop a comment and I’ll see you in the next article!
Missed the first article in the series? Check it out here!