In 1998, the United States Air Force retired the renowned SR-71 Blackbird, a fifty-seven-year-old reconnaissance plane that still holds the distinction of fastest manned air breathing jet engine aircraft. Lockheed Martin was rumored to be working on a successor to the Blackbird in the late 2000s. Guy Norris of Aviation Week wrote an influential story in 2013 that gave new information into Lockheed Martin’s ongoing Skunk Works development of a Blackbird successor: the SR-72, or “Son of Blackbird.”
According to The National Interest, the SR-72, or “Son of Blackbird,” is a reconnaissance, surveillance, and strike aircraft that will be unmanned, hypersonic, and reusable. The aircraft’s striking capability is highlighted because it will purportedly support Lockheed Martin’s revolutionary High-Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW). The aircraft’s combat skills allow it to strike its target in hazardous environments where slower manned planes would be at risk.
The project had to be delayed for several years since the technology to create the aircraft was overly ambitious when it was revealed in 2013.
The SR-72 will purportedly support Lockheed Martin’s forthcoming High-Speed Strike Weapon, whereas the original Blackbird carried no weapons at all (HSSW). The SR-72’s combat capability could be a useful tool for delivering high-precision strikes in danger areas where slower, manned fighters are deemed too risky. The SR-72 can reach a top speed of Mach 6, or 4603 miles per hour, which is nearly twice as fast as the original Blackbird.
The new aircraft is also said to be able to take off significantly faster than its notoriously slow predecessor, which might be a major operational benefit in emergency situations.
Despite what appears to be progress, clear development and manufacturing schedules are still elusive. In late 2018, Lockheed said that an SR-72 prototype would fly by 2025, with the plane possibly entering service in the 2030s.