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Lockheed pushing $1 billion Mach 6 airbreather

Lockheed pushing $1 billion Mach 6 airbreather
Lockheed pushing $1 billion Mach 6 airbreather. Lockheed Martin rsquo;s
<p><strong>Lockheed Martin&rsquo;s unmanned SR-72 aircraft concept has surfaced again with renewed vigour, with company leadership now pushing a reusable, air-breathing hypersonic vehicle as an &ldquo;affordable&rdquo; way to validate a new propulsion concept for achieving speeds within the atmosphere between Mach 6.0 to Mach 20.</strong></p> <p>Speaking at a Lockheed media event in Washington DC on 15 March, company chief executive Marillyn Hewson confirmed that the company is building on &ldquo;several breakthroughs&rdquo; made during the short-lived HTV-3X Blackswift hypersonic testbed, which was de-funded by Congress in fiscal year 2009, to develop &ldquo;a controllable, low-drag aerodynamic configuration capable of stable operation from takeoff to subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic to Mach 6&rdquo;.</p> <p><img alt="Asset Image" src="https://www.flightglobal.com/assets/getasset.aspx?itemid=53253" style="margin:0px" /></p> <p>Lockheed SR-72</p> <p>Lockheed Martin</p> <p>Hewson, while displaying an artist&rsquo;s rendering of the SR-72, said it would cost &ldquo;less than $1 billion&rdquo; to develop and fly a demonstrator aircraft the size of an F-22 Raptor.</p> <p>Devised by Lockheed&rsquo;s Skunk Works division, SR-72 employs a turbine-based combined cycle propulsion system to get above &quot;Mach 1.5 to 2.0,&quot; at which point it would begin converting to a supersonic combustion ramjet for speeds beyond Mach 6.</p> <p>That&rsquo;s according to Skunk Works head Rob Weiss, who confirmed that it would be an unmanned vehicle, at least at first. Hewson says the company&rsquo;s long-term ambition is to &ldquo;enable hypersonic passenger flights and easier access to space&rdquo;.</p> <p>The company&rsquo;s militarised spinoffs could be an air-breathing, hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft, or perhaps even new fighters and bombers further along.</p> <p>Weiss says there is government interest but no programme of record currently, although DARPA might want to pick up where Blackswift ended and launch a proof-of-concept demonstration.</p> <p>Lockheed revealed its next-generation version of the famed SR-71Blackbird, the SR-72, in 2013 and has said it would hope to introduce a reusable hypersonic aircraft in the mid-2020s or so. The challenge is transitioning through Mach 3.0 &ndash; since modern turbojet engines are only capable of powering an aircraft to Mach 2.2, whereas typical ramjets don&rsquo;t work below Mach 4.0.</p> <p>Hewson and Weiss pointed to Lockheed&#39;s investments in hypersonic propulsion technology and high-temperature materials but didn&rsquo;t say exactly how their concept will transition to from zero all the way up to hypersonic speeds except through combined propulsion technologies.</p> <p>In addition, the company is pushing super-fast, rocket-boosted weapons. Weiss says Lockheed will submit proposals for DARPA&rsquo;s Tactical Boost Glide (TBC) and Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) demonstration programmes &ldquo;later this month or in early April&rdquo;.</p> <p><img alt="Asset Image" src="https://www.flightglobal.com/assets/getasset.aspx?itemid=66287" style="margin:0px" /></p> <p>DARPA</p> <p>TBG, a high-speed glide weapon launched from a common vertical launch silo, follows in the Mach 20 contrails of the Falcon HTV-2 experiments that failed in 2010 and 2011.</p> <p>HAWC, meanwhile, builds on HyFly and the Boeing X-51A scramjet demonstration that ended successfully in 2013 after four flights.</p> <p>Funding for TBG jumps from $11.2 million to $22.8 million in DARPA&rsquo;s spending blueprint for fiscal year 2017, and HAWC funding rises from $13.5 million to $49.5 million over the same period.</p> <p>&ldquo;Twenty-sixteen will be a decision on winners; more than one, likely, on one or both programmes,&rdquo; says Weiss, adding that flight tests are planned for 2018.</p>