Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works recently divulged some information about the SR-72 program to build a successor to the iconic SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. The advanced aircraft development division of Lockheed told Aviation Week that hypersonic technologies, including a combined cycle propulsion system that combines a supersonic jet engine with a rocket engine, have advanced to the point that work on the planned Mach 6 SR-72 strike and reconnaissance aircraft can begin in earnest.
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“We’ve been saying hypersonics is two years away for the last 20 years, but all I can say is the technology is mature and we, along with DARPA and the services, are working hard to get that capability into the hands of our warfighters as soon as possible,” Rob Weiss, Lockheed Martin’s executive vice president and general manager for Skunk Works, told Aviation Week.
The Air Force and DARPA have been working on the early development of a hypersonic successor to the SR-71 since the early 2000s, and in 2013 the USAF announced that it had begun design work on a scaled demonstrator of the SR-72. Since then, however, almost no details about the program have been released.
Now Skunk Works has confirmed that ground tests on a combined cycle engine with elements of a scramjet and rocket engine were conducted from 2013 to 2017. Lockheed partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne to began work modifying an off-the-shelf turbine to build a combined cycle engine back in 2006. The advanced aircraft division also said that it was getting close to starting full scale development of a flight research vehicle (FRV) that could be piloted or operated remotely. This FRV is expected to be about the size of an F-22 and use a full combined cycle propulsion system, according to Aviation Week.
Lockheed Martin optimistically plans to fly an FRV in the early 2020s. Following demonstrator flight testing, a full-scale twin-engine SR-72, about the same size as the SR-71, could achieve first flight before 2030.
The SR-72 program has been under the hood for a number of years, and details are still tantalizingly lacking. In the coming years we could finally see what Skunk Works has been up to for the past two decades.
Source: Aviation Week
This article was reblogged from Popular Mechanics.