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    Hypersonic Horizon: The SR-72 and the Legacy of the Blackbird

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    Ever since the SR-71 Blackbird slipped into the annals of aerial legends, the world has quietly anticipated what marvel Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works would conjure next. Whispered rumors turned into speculative certainty with the SR-72, often dubbed the “Son of Blackbird,” a reference to its storied progenitor.

    Promising hypersonic speeds exceeding Mach 6, this potential reconnaissance and strike UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) has the defense community on the edge of their seats, despite the clandestine veil over its development.

    Numerous references point to the extremely secretive SR-72 project as “Darkstar,” however, this is incorrect. Although the aircraft has not been officially given a nickname, one of the most frequently used names is “Son of Blackbird.”

    Interestingly, the process of assigning nicknames to military aircraft, such as the F-15 “Eagle,” typically involves a combination of historical tradition, practical considerations, and protocols established by either the military or the aircraft’s manufacturer. However, this procedure is usually carried out once an air force officially accepts an aircraft.

    In the movie “Top Gun: Maverick,” released in 2022, the name “Darkstar” is also given to a top-secret supersonic jet. However, it is important to note that this aircraft is purely fictional, and Lockheed Martin constructed a replica of the “Darkstar” specifically for the film.

    This replica had a length of 69.5 feet (21.18 meters) and a wingspan of 5.5 feet (10.06 meters). Some of its components, including the instruments and flight stick inside the cockpit, were prototypes provided by Lockheed Martin.

    The purpose of this mockup was to film the ground scenes and serve as a visual reference for the visual effects (VFX) team to work on the aerial sequences. For the take-off and flight scenes, an F-18 was utilized, which was later replaced by a digitally created version of the “Darkstar.”

    The SR-72 is believed to build on the hypersonic research foundations laid by projects like the HTV-2, a rocket-launched aircraft developed by the Skunk Works team.

    This ambitious endeavor is designed for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) roles, with potential strike capabilities, reflecting a shift in the needs of modern warfare where speed and versatility are paramount.

    The aircraft is speculated to utilize a dual-mode engine system, a combination of turbofan and scramjet technologies, allowing it to cruise efficiently at lower speeds and then leap into the hypersonic regime.

    It is rumored that the SR-72 hypersonic aircraft will possess superior capabilities compared to its predecessors, the X-43 and X-51 “WaveRider,” which were primarily utilized as experimental platforms for testing scramjet technology.

    In contrast to those aircraft, the SR-72 is reportedly being developed with a broader spectrum of functionalities and is expected to incorporate numerous advanced materials, including carbon-carbon composites.

    These materials are anticipated to endure more severe thermal stresses than the titanium skin utilized for heat dissipation in the SR-71, as it encounters high speeds. A significant obstacle for the SR-72 is effectively managing the elevated heat levels produced by skin friction at Mach.

    Another aspect of the SR-72’s development is the choice of fuel. While its ancestor, the SR-71, used the specialized JP-7 fuel, there is speculation that Lockheed Martin might opt for more conventional options to streamline logistics and operations.

    Though Lockheed Martin has been tight-lipped, the chatter around defense circles suggests a prototype may have already been delivered to the USAF. The SR-72’s first flight is rumored to be scheduled for 2025, with the operational service intended to begin by 2030.

    Relevant articles:
    Here’s everything we know about Lockheed’s secretive SR, Interesting Engineering
    Lockheed Martin SR-72 Son of Blackbird or Darkstar: What We Know Right Now, The National Interest
    Son Of Blackbird: What Is The Lockheed Martin SR-72?, Simple Flying
    Everything You Need To Know About The Mysterious Lockheed Martin SR-72 ‘Darkstar’, Simple Flying

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