World’s First Hypersonic Drone in Development

“Speed is the new stealth”
image: Lockheed Martin

Nicholas West
Activist Post

While a superficial debate takes place over the scope of drone warfare and surveillance, significant upgrades continue and the drone industry booms. Recently we have seen the Navy successfully test autonomous drone takeoffs and landings at sea, Boeing has begun to retrofit its decommissioned F-16s into pilotless fighter jets, and solar drones have been developed that can stay aloft for years at a time.

The latest addition to the roster can be found in the video below. War profiteer defense contractor Lockheed Martin intends to improve upon its SR-71 Blackbird – the fastest production plane ever devised. (source) This time it will take the form of a hypersonic drone capable of flying at Mach 6 (six times the speed of sound, roughly 4,500 mph) and would potentially be able to strike targets. This prototype is set to become reality by 2018 and fully operational by 2030; it should fit nicely into the next generation of drones that is is set to transform war, as one can see in a General Atomics video presentation here. Whether or not all systems become a reality, it is clear that investment in permanent war continues unabated.

Read the full press release below…

Lockheed PR – Meet the SR-72

In 1976, U.S. Air Force SR-71 Blackbird crews flew from New York to London in less than two hours, reaching speeds exceeding Mach 3 and setting world records that have held up for nearly four decades.

But those world records may not stay unbroken for long.

That’s because today, at the birthplace of the Blackbird – Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works® – engineers are developing a hypersonic aircraft that will go twice the speed of the SR-71. It’s called the SR-72.


Son of the Blackbird


The SR-71 was developed using 20th century technology. It was envisioned with slide rules and paper. It wasn’t managed by millions of lines of software code. And it wasn’t powered by computer chips. All that changes with the SR-72.

Envisioned as an unmanned aircraft, the SR-72 would fly at speeds up to Mach 6, or six times the speed of sound. At this speed, the aircraft would be so fast, an adversary would have no time to react or hide.

“Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour,” said Brad Leland, Lockheed Martin program manager, Hypersonics. “Speed is the next aviation advancement to counter emerging threats in the next several decades. The technology would be a game-changer in theater, similar to how stealth is changing the battlespace today.”

A hypersonic plane does not have to be an expensive, distant possibility. In fact, an SR-72 could be operational by 2030. For the past several years, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® has been working with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop a method to integrate an off-the-shelf turbine with a supersonic combustion ramjet air breathing jet engine to power the aircraft from standstill to Mach 6. The result is the SR-72 that Aviation Week has dubbed “son of Blackbird,” and integrated engine and airframe that is optimized at the system level for high performance and affordability.

Hypersonic Research and Development

SR-72 is not the first hypersonic Skunk Works® aircraft. In partnership with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, engineers developed the rocket-launched Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2). The HTV-2 research and development project was designed to collect data on three technical challenges of hypersonic flight: aerodynamics; aerothermal effects; and guidance, navigation and control.

The SR-72’s design incorporates lessons learned from the HTV-2, which flew to a top speed of Mach 20, or 13,000 mph, with a surface temperature of 3500°F.

A hypersonic aircraft will be a game changer.


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