Picture credit: Northrop-Grumman
According to LiveScience, “Hypersonic aircraft and weapons that can fly more than five times the speed of sound may seem like a futuristic fantasy, but defense giant Lockheed Martin says it is committed to making these ultrafast innovations a reality.” In fact, the SR-72 hypersonic spy plane.(successor to the famous manned SR-71 spy plane) flies at nearly Mach 6 and is unmanned as it soars in the exo-atmosphere. Hypersonic speeds exceed Mach 5 or 3,800 miles an hour or about 7X faster than a conventional airliner. The SR-71 was designed as a spy plane for the CIA in the 60s and designated the A-12. The Mach 3 plus aircraft first flew in 1962, taking off from Groom AFB in Area 51. Later, once the Air Force operated it as a reconnaissance plane, it was designated the SR-71 black-bird, according to Edgar Fouche, a talented USAF engineer and programmer.
But Lockheed scientists are designing vehicles that could cross the Pacific Ocean in 90 minutes traveling at 4 miles a second or 14,500 miles an hour ! “Lockheed Martin continues to invest in propulsion technologies and advanced materials needed for hypersonic speeds,” Marillyn A. Hewson, Lockheed Martin president and CEO, said in a statement on March 15. “We’re now producing a controllable, low-drag, aerodynamic configuration capable of stable operation from takeoff, to subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic to Mach 6.” [Supersonic! The 11 Fastest Military Airplanes]
Hypersonic vehicles at $1B each copy are considered the new “stealth planes” and space is steadily being militarized. A newer hypersonic aircraft includes DARPA’s experimental Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) which achieved a stunning Mach 20 (about 13,000 mph, or 20,921km/h) in its second test flight in 2011. The HTV-2 and SR-72 represent a combined cycle propulsion approach for hypersonics, which use ramjet engines to fly at hypersonic speeds but require a different kind of propulsion to get them to Mach 5. In addition to hypersonic aircraft, Lockheed Martin is developing hypersonic weapons, including their “Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept.” Technically, hypersonic weaponry already exists: The Navy’s electromagnetic railgun shoots a projectile at Mach 5.
The precursors of these planes included the SR 74 which was a ’70s era exo-atmospheric vehicle that had to be piggybacked into low earth orbit. It’s big brother, the SR 75, was a 162′ foot long and 98′ wide hypersonic vehicle that provided the core engineering for the TR 3B Astra 5. (more on this 600 foot triangle flying platform with stunning military feats).