An SR-72 in the works?

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syscom3

Pacific Historian
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An SR-72 in the works?

By Vago Muradian - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Jun 18, 2007 20:00:57 EDT

Ten years after the Air Force retired the SR-71 spy plane, Lockheed Martin's legendary Skunk Works appears to be back at work developing a new Mach-6 reconnaissance plane, sources said.

The Air Force has awarded Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects arm a top-secret contract to develop a stealthy 4,000-mph plane capable of flying to altitudes of about 100,000 feet, with transcontinental range. The plan is to debut the craft around 2020.

The new jet — being referred to by some as the SR-72 — is likely to be unmanned and, while intended for reconnaissance, could eventually trade its sensors for weapons.

The new aircraft would offer a combination of speed, altitude and stealth that could make it virtually impervious to ground-based missiles, sources said. Even the SR-71 is said to have evaded hundreds of missiles fired at it during its long career, although some aircraft sustained minor damage.

But experts say enormous challenges remain. First, the SR-71's top speed was about 2,200 mph. Pushing a plane at twice that speed in the thin air of the upper stratosphere would require exceptionally powerful engines. Second, friction at high speeds could reduce stealth.

"An aircraft with these characteristics could prove a potent response to anti-satellite weapons," said Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. "If U.S. reconnaissance satellites were lost, an SR-72 could get to areas of interest quickly and provide persistent surveillance in place of the satellite."

And don't bother asking the Air Force or Skunk Works executives about their work. None is commenting.

"As a matter of policy, we don't talk about classified programs — whether or not they exist," Lockheed's Tom Jurkowsky said.

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Looks about right . . . there have been rumors floating around for years concerning a successor to the -71. Project "Aurora" has been quoted as being the likely successor to the A-12/SR-71 series of aircraft.

There was also the so-called "XR-7 Thunder Dart", equipped with PDWE, or Pulse Detonation Wave Engines (basically, a much more advanced version of the pulse-jet engine used on the German V-1 "Buzz Bomb"), which used lasers to detonate liquid methane in the engine's combustion chamber. Top speed is quoted as "Mach 7+". Construction is supposedly composed primarily of very-high temperature alloys (i.e.: titanium), and ceramic composites for the hottest parts of the aircraft (leading edges, nose cone, engine shock cones, etc.).

Quote: "TOP SECRET AURORA SYSTEM Top Secret Aurora System, which supposedly includes the SR-75 Penetrator which was designed to replace the SR-71 Blackbird, and the XR-7 Thunder Dart, which is carried aloft by the Penetrator and launched at 90,000 feet. XR-7 Thunder Dart Powered by two after-burning turbojets and two Pulse Detonation Wave Engines (PDWEs), The XR-7 Thunder Dart is capable of speeds far exceeding Mach 7. This hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft is carried aloft and launched at 90,000 feet by the SR-75 Penetrator. XR-7 turbojets are used for loiter, air-to-air refuelling, and normal takeoffs and landings for flights to operating bases. PDWEs require special fuels, ZIP fuels, and ignition inside the engine takes place through the use of frequency-timed laser light in a system called photon ignition. Most of the fuel aboard the XR-7 is ZIP fuel, while a relatively small amount of JP-4, used in the turbojets, is carried. ZIP fuel also is circulated through the skin of the Thunder Dart to cool the structure before injection into the engines. Both aircraft - the SR-75 and the XR-7 - are equipped with standard arrays of photographic and reconnaissance gear in addition to the top secret remote sensing equpment used to "see" nuclear storage sites of the world's ever-increasing nuclear powers. It is not known who is responsible for deployment of these craft - the USAF denies their existence. Suspected operators include the CIA, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) or perhaps a consortium of foreign nations allied in their effort.

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Part of the DoDs search for the next generation bomber. Tradeoffs between continental missles with conventional warheads vs. supersonic airbreathing platforms with quick strike capability vs. transonic platforms with long loiter times. 2020 is the target date, but I suspect that date is HIGHLY optimistic for fielding a new generation bomber/strike platform of any large procurement size.
 

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