Aircraft experts and military aficionados have cause to rejoice now that Lockheed Martin has debuted the SR-72 unmanned spy plane, the long-awaited successor to the SR-71 Blackbird and potentially the first hypersonic craft to enter service.
Plans for the SR-72 drone were first unveiled Friday in an Aviation Week article which revealed that Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works advanced development program has drafted plans for a plane that could fly as fast as Mach 6 – twice the speed of the Blackbird.
The SR-72 would have the ability to gather intelligence, conduct surveillance and reconnaissance, and launch combat strikes at an unprecedented speed. The plane is designed to fill what is considered in military circles to be a gap in capabilities between the spy satellites orbiting Earth and the manned and unmanned technology meant to replace the SR-71.
The original Blackbird, which was introduced in 1966 and served until 1999, was primarily used by the US Air Force and NASA to collect intelligence through the Cold War. Along with flying at speeds fast enough to outrun a surface-to-air missile, the Blackbird also avoided enemy radar by flying at low altitudes. A total of 32 aircraft were built and, although 12 were lost to accidents, not a single one was lost to enemy combat.