Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Lockheed's new hypersonic gem

Now that's a pretty bird.

If you are a long time reader, then you know I have always been a big fan of military aviation.  While other kids looked at car magazines and talked cylinders and camshafts, I was enthralled with fighter jets and thought about missile lock and thrust.

I'll let the psych students out there sift through the homoerotic imagery in that paragraph for a moment.

Anyway, one of my all-time favorite planes was the SR-71 Blackbird.  It was a spy plane that flew over three times the speed of sound and could reach an altitude that was just at the edge of space.  And its airframe had a design that was sexy as all hell.

Now, Lockheed-Martin's famous Skunk Works factory has a new riff on the Blackbird design.  The SR-72 will be a recon aircraft that can reach Mach 6 and actually go into space.  One aspect of the plane that sets it apart from its predecessor is that it will have "optional strike capabilities." Naturally, not much more is being said about those but the engines are another story.  Engines that can propel at such speeds, even those of the Blackbird, are subject to problems.  Those problems are being tackled as stated in Wired:

"The new SR-72 will use a turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) that will employ the turbine engine at lower speeds, and use a scramjet at higher speeds. A scramjet engine is designed to operate at hypersonic velocities by compressing the air through a carefully designed inlet, but needs to be traveling supersonic before it is practical to begin with."

What I find most interesting about the plane, aside from its obvious awesomeness, is the question of whether or not it has actually been around for quite some time.  For decades now, there have been rumors of an ultra-classified spy plane code-named "Aurora."  Investigators asserted that they found adscititious budget lines heading to aviation projects unspecified.  Aurora was also said to be the source of numerous UFO sightings, especially the "black triangle" ones.

It was said to have "wave pulse propulsion" engines that produced signature "donuts on a rope" contrails that appeared mysteriously in the skies over the desert regions of the American Southwest.  Seismic tremors were recorded there for a while, traveling in a straight line off of the Pacific Ocean, over Los Angeles, and then in a Northeast trajectory, presumably towards Area 51.  I've read that during the first Gulf War, Heathrow Airport picked up an aircraft moving at higher elevation and speed than other military jets were said to be able to at the time, however I'm having difficulty now finding a link to substantiate that claim.  Might just be myth.

Myth, after all, is what the entire Aurora program was said to be.  No hard evidence for it ever really surfaced.

Then again, maybe it was just prototypes of what we're about to see from Lockheed.

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