All about the mysterious Lockheed Martin SR-72 “Darkstar”

The SR-72, often confused with the Darkstar sci-fi aircraft from the film Top Gun: Maverick, lacks a specific codename.

Interesting Engineering notes that he is sometimes called the “Son of the Blackbird”, a significant challenge to the engineers at Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, a team renowned for excellence in aerospace design.

The aircraft succeeds the famous SR-71, a milestone in aerospace engineering, recognized as the fastest manned aircraft ever built, a record that still stands six decades after its first flight . The strategic importance of the SR-71 was such that the US Air Force hesitated to retire it in 1989, choosing to keep it in service until 1998.

There are high expectations from Project SR-72, which promises advanced avionics capabilities. Although the aircraft has not yet been tested, it has already attracted public attention due to its inclusion in films. Despite the secrecy usually associated with Skunk Works projects, few details have emerged about the development of the SR-72.

SR-72: Blackbird hypersonic successor revealed

  • Assigned role: Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for hypersonic strategic reconnaissance.
  • Current Status: Proposed Design

Revelations about the SR-72 by Lockheed Martin and Skunk Works in 2013 may have been an attempt to garner public support for the program, breaking with their usual discretion.

Rumors about its development had been circulating since 2006, and plans for a demonstrator were announced in 2013, with flight scheduled for 2018. This vehicle will demonstrate the feasibility of the Mach 6 cruiser for hypersonic and economical intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance operations (ISR). ) and attack.

Initially planned for 2023, the status of the demonstrator’s first flight remains uncertain. On the other hand, the US Air Force has indicated that it has tested prototypes of the future fighter, the launch of which is scheduled for around 2030 within the framework of the NGAD program, which aims to replace the F-22 with a sixth-generation platform. Have to change. However, it has not been confirmed whether the SR-72 is included in this program or not.

The SR-72 aims to double the speed of the SR-71, with an emphasis on “economy” given the high operating costs of its predecessor, which were $200,000 per hour in the 1980s.

An important new feature of the SR-72 is its proposed capability for strike missions, expanding its applications beyond reconnaissance, for which the SR-71 was limited due to its inability to carry weapons.

This multi-role capability enhances the SR-72’s competitiveness, especially in a context where the cost of launching spy satellites has declined significantly, giving Lockheed Martin a unique opportunity to stand out in the contemporary aerospace landscape.

SR-72 Capabilities and Challenges in the Hyperspeed Era

The SR-72 goes from fantasy to reality: The Darkstar from Top GunThe SR-72 goes from fantasy to reality: The Darkstar from Top Gun
dark Star
  • Estimated speed: 6,437 km/h (4,000 mph)
  • Operating altitude: 85,000 feet (25,900 m)

The SR-71 once rivaled space satellites in terms of reconnaissance capabilities. However, an emerging advantage of the SR-72 over current spy satellites lies in its strategic mobility.

Satellites, due to their orbital nature, have predictable trajectories, allowing adversaries to anticipate and hide sensitive activities or infrastructure before flying over them. Modern military installations are designed to be hidden from aerial surveillance as much as possible, taking advantage of orbital predictions to hide critical elements from satellite view.

Furthermore, hypersonic weapons pose a significant challenge to current detection systems. The ability to launch ballistic missiles into space gives radar systems more time to detect and track these objects, giving them the ability to see beyond Earth’s horizon.

In contrast, hypersonic weapons, even at high altitudes, can remain invisible for long periods of time. Its extraordinary speed limits the time it has to react to the presence of an opponent, increasing its strategic effectiveness.

On the global scene, competition in the field of hypersonic technologies is fierce. In this field, Russia and China have overtaken the United States and taken the lead.

Russia has demonstrated its progress with the operational deployment of hypersonic cruise missiles in the context of the Ukraine conflict. Similarly, China has deployed hypersonic cruise missiles with specialized capabilities against US aircraft carrier groups, demonstrating its commitment to developing weapons that challenge US military power.

Reaching double the speed of the SR-71 represents a major challenge. Both the United States and other contractors have faced difficulties in developing operational hypersonic systems.

However, Lockheed Martin claims that reaching Mach 6 speeds is possible with its technology, placing this speed within the sweet spot for military application. This commitment to hyperspeed underscores the importance of overcoming current technological challenges to ensure strategic advantage on the future global battlefield.

SR-72: first hypersonic flight and milestones towards weaponry

SR-72: A revolution in hypersonic flight and air dominanceSR-72: A revolution in hypersonic flight and air dominance
  • First scheduled flight: 2025
  • Estimated start of operations: 2030

Since the initial announcement in 2013 to date, Lockheed Martin has confirmed its intention to provide the SR-72 with weapons-carrying capability, holding firm to the perspective of conducting test flights in 2025 and entering service in 2030 Is.

Recently, the company revealed that the SR-72 will operate without a crew, which represents a significant advancement in terms of aeronautical technology and military strategy.

Regarding the SR-72’s armament, Lockheed Martin has indicated that the aircraft will have the capability to launch hypersonic missiles. Although the technical specifications required to allow the launch of hypersonic weapons from this platform have not been detailed, it is worth noting that Boeing has already conducted missile tests on B-52 bombers, showing that these capabilities Development is in progress.

Cultural influence and NASA support for the development of the SR-72


The impact of the original Top Gun film on US naval recruiting is well known, and the sequel has played an equally beneficial role for defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin.

Without directly revealing the identity of the fictional Darkstar aircraft seen in Top Gun: Maverick as the SR-72, Lockheed Martin has created excitement around the aircraft by publishing information that suggests a connection between the two.

This strategy has not only captured the public’s attention, but also strengthened the SR-72’s image as a symbol of innovation in military aeronautics.

Development of the SR-72 has also been supported by NASA, which has contracted Lockheed Martin for the development of hypersonic engine technology. This agreement led to advances in combined turbine-ramjet (ramjet) engines needed to achieve the projected speed for the SR-72.

This support underscores the joint commitment of the aerospace industry and government agencies to address the technical challenges associated with hypersonic flight, placing the SR-72 at the forefront of military and aeronautical innovation.

(TagstoTranslate)SR-72 Darkstar

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