The head of Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics division has dismissed recent media reports that it has developed the SR-72, a successor to the iconic SR-71 Black Bird.
“I can tell you unequivocally that it has not been built,” says Orlando Carvalho, executive vice-president of aeronautics at Lockheed Martin.
In early January, several media reports indicated that a successor to the SR-71, the so-called SR-72, might actually have been developed. The reports followed a presentation by Lockheed vice-president Jack O’Banion, in which he discussed advanced design and manufacturing techniques.
Carvalho is responsible for overseeing several Lockheed business areas including Skunk Works, which famously developed the Mach three SR-71 in the 1960s. Carvalho spoke to FlightGlobal at the Lockheed chalet at the Singapore air show.
“I think Jack’s comments were taken a little bit out of context,” says Carvalho. “What Jack was trying to express was that with the technology we have available to us today, including the fidelity of the analysis tools we use and the design capabilities – really the whole digital revolution that we all benefit from… and how that applies to aircraft designs.”
“What Jack was trying to communicate was how that enables us to have confidence that if a reusable hypersonic vehicle were desired, then we can have confidence in its design, its capabilities and performance….it was not to imply that there is one that has been built and it’s sitting in a base somewhere. I can assure you that’s not the case.”
Carvalho adds that work on hypersonic technology is underway, but the focus is weapons systems.
“Eventually as that technology is matured, it could ultimately enable the development of a reusable vehicle. Prior to this we may have referred to it as a ‘like an SR-72,” but now the terminology of choice is 'reusable vehicle.'”
A Lockheed spokesman adds that the SR-71 remains one of the company’s most popular aircraft. “Our analytics tell us that the SR-71 is still one of the things that people are just fascinated by.”
The US Air Force and NASA flew the SR-71 from 1964 to 1998. The A-12, another version of the Blackbird family designed for the CIA, first flew in 1962, but was retired in 1967.
The Blackbird's remarkable attributes are well-known: capable of travelling at Mach 3.2 at heights over 85,000ft (26,000m) over a range of 5,900km, the SR-71 was a mainstay of the US strategic reconnaissance force from 1968-90. (Several aircraft were briefly reactivated from 1995.)
The aircraft’s design looks futuristic even today. Indeed, Lockheed notes that almost every area of its design required new approaches or breakthroughs in technology. More than 90% of the airframe, for example, was constructed from titanium to cope with the friction heating generated by its speed.