It’s not every day you wake up to the news that Lockheed Martin confirmed it has been secretly working on a successor to its famous hypersonic spyplane, the SR-71 Blackbird. That’s what happened on Friday, when Aviation Week exclusively told the world about a propulsion breakthrough that would allow a new aircraft, the SR-72, to fly at six times the speed of sound, twice that of its successor. We called it “the Son of BlackBird,” and presented a detailed report on the technology behind the hypersonic aircraft.
We announced our exclusive on Twitter and within 24 hours, the Son of Blackbird had reached 3.6 million Twitter accounts. Every publication with an interest in defense, technology and policy reported on Aviation Week’s ‘scoop of the year,’ and the resulting traffic was so immense that it actually temporarily broke this site.
This is of course a big story in the United States, and our traffic statistics show that 81% of all page views were from the U.S., with Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and New York leading the pack. The United Kingdom accounted for 7% of all traffic, followed by Canada at 6% and Australia at 3%.
To go with the cover story, the report’s author, Guy Norris, wrote an in-depth hypersonics package for the Nov. 4 edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology (digital subscribers can read it online). Writing in his blog, Guy said: "when I began researching stories for the hypersonics special, I never expected to be headlining it with the story about the SR-72."
You, our readers had plenty to say about the SR-72. Some of you just couldn’t believe it:
Yodelling Cyclist: “I really thought this was some sort of April Fool's-type prank for Halloween. I even googled for such an American custom...but no.”
X-Planes: “Wow! That's some exciting news. I don't know if it's Christmas or April Fool’s Day!”
Most were skeptical:
Sferrin: “Not to be a downer but we can'teven make an air-breathing missile that goes Mach 3 these days. The guys that could have pulled this off are retired or dead.”
Slowman: “I am surprised Lockheed revealed this thing. Isn't this supposed to be a black project jet like the Aurora? Or is Lockheed trying to solicit funding from the Congress with this public disclosure?”
Biranne: “We can't afford it. Plus it's Lockheed saying they can contain costs. They can't we know it and we can't afford it. Maybe in another 15 years after some serious budget/debt pay down we can revisit OMG projects but for now. We Can’t Afford It.”
Len Hobbs: “Quoting the late Andy Griffith..."Man..that thing's faster than a V8 Chevrolet..." The calculated potential speed makes for fascinating debate - but there is no strategic, nor tactical, application which can be rationalized - much less justified - for construction or service. The cost to build it will be mostly unknown...but galactically obscene - with only more escalating costs to use it. Great artists' sketch - a boondoggle idea.”
While others studied the technology:
Taxpayer71: “Given a speed of 60 nm per minute, a SR-72 would be an exceedingly poor SIGINT or GMTI asset. It could collectpredetermined aim point or area mapping imagery. "Fast-reaction" computations would have to include the time to get the collected data off the aircraft and back to a processing/analysis center. The conceptual drawings of the SR-72 don't offer any evidence of an antenna for satellite communications.”
Marcase: "My first thought reading this is; what about the X-37B? It would be wonderful to have a Mach 5-6 strike capability, but releasing any kind of ordnance at those speeds would be... interesting (nevermind its turn radius). I can't help but wonder if there is a dire need for such a capability right now. No doubt this will be a challenging (read: expensive) project, and ISR alternatives in the form of unmanned and manned aviation assets are supposed to be available in the (near) future. I also remember the claims that both the F-22 and F-35 are supposed to be "superior" ISR platforms. Both "tactical" options, to be sure, but is the high cost of new a "strategic" ISR project worth it."
X-Planes: "I wonder how the weapons launch at mach 6 will be achieved. Tossing them out the back, like the A-5 Vigilante might be an option. It's didn't work out too well for the Vigilante, but the concept isn't a bad one."
Tiggyboo replied: "Who says it needs to be at Mach 6 when delivering the weapon?"
And there was plenty more reaction on Aviation Week's LinkedIn group.
What do you think of the SR-72? Will it fly? Click here to read the comments and leave your own.