Boeing's SR-71 Blackbird replacement travels faster than Mach 5

Arguably the coolest aircraft ever made was the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, an aircraft long retired. Boeing has now unveiled the first design details of the successor to the Blackbird and this new aircraft will be hypersonic. Boeing is aiming for an aircraft capable of traveling over Mach 5.

The aircraft is intended to be built around a combined cycle engine that would use elements of a turbine and a dual ramjet/scramjet. The aircraft is part of a race amongst aircraft makers to build a hypersonic strike and reconnaissance aircraft to replace the Blackbird. The Boeing design is not yet approved by the aircraft maker for development.

The development would be a two-stage process with the first version being a single engine F-16-size aircraft. After the testing of that small version would come a full-scale twin-engine version that matches the 107-foot length of the SR-71. This hypersonic aircraft would have to take off under its own power, previous hypersonic test aircraft were dropped from a modified bomber.

The new hypersonic aircraft will also need to be able to slow down and land under its own power after a mission. Previous hypersonic test aircraft simply crashed into the ocean when fuel ran out. The hypersonic aircraft would use a conventional turbojet to reach around Mach 3, the limit of that type of engine.

The aircraft would then transition to a ramjet/scramjet to fly at speeds over Mach 5. Landing would require transition back to the turbojet. As for a timeline or the aircraft, that is hard to pin down, but Boeing competitor Lockheed intends to have its hypersonic aircraft flight research vehicle in the air in the 2020s, presumably Boeing is on a similar timeframe.

SOURCE: Popular Mechanics