Lockheed Martin’s famous SR-71 Blackbird, a high-speed, high-altitude surveillance plane capable of reaching speeds in excess of Mach 3, is practically the poster child for supersonic vehicles.
With concepts such as the SR-72, the company hopes to pioneer aircraft capable of hypersonic speeds-Mach 5 and above.
Most of the development in this direction has focused on unmanned vehicles-drones eventually, but mainly cruise-type missiles capable of evading detection and countermeasures through sheer unmatchable speed.
While such developments are mainly of a military character, research by Lockheed Martin to develop manned hypersonic aircraft could yield benefits for the commercial and civilian sectors.
Lockheed Martin’s CEO Marilyn Hewson remarked, at the company’s “Media day” on March 15, “Lockheed Martin has a legacy of making fast aircraft. We are now producing a controllable, low-drag, aerodynamic configuration capable of stable operations from takeoff to subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic, to Mach 6.”The company hopes to test a proof-of-concept hypersonic vehicle, about the size of an F-22 fighter, for less than $1 billion by 2018.
The hypersonic vehicle is expected to have a pretty sophisticated engine system; most designs, such as the HAWC concept, envisions using a rocket-type booster to reach a sufficient altitude, whereupon a “Scramjet” engine will take over, sucking in oxygen to boost the aircraft to sustained hypersonic speeds.
The test aircraft, like the SR-72, will do away with cumbersome, spacecraft-like stages.