The Lockheed SR-71 was an awesome plane. It could go fast, it could go high, and it was very hard to detect on radar. The problem was, the United States didn't build that many of them — a grand total of 32 planes were built. The SR-71 was retired in 1990 by George H. W. Bush but was brought back, briefly, in the '90s before being sent out to pasture for good.
But there have been rumors of a replacement — something called the "Aurora." This rumored replacement appeared in a 1985 budget line item in the same category as the U-2 Dragon Lady and the SR-71. The name stuck as the speculated successor to the SR-71, which the Air Force seemed all too happy to retire.
Lockheed SR-71 in flight over California. It was initially retired in 1990. (USAF photo)
In 2006, Aviation Week editor, Bill Sweetman, declared he'd found budgetary evidence that the Aurora had been operating, saying,
My investigations continue to turn up evidence that suggests current activity. For example, having spent years sifting through military budgets, tracking untraceable dollars and code names, I learned how to sort out where money was going. This year, when I looked at the Air Force operations budget in detail, I found a $9-billion black hole that seems a perfect fit for a project like Aurora.
But there is another successor — one that doesn't require a crew. This is the SR-72, and it may be twice as fast as the Mach 3 Blackbird. The Mach 6 drone is said to be able to reach some of the same heights as the SR-71. What's unique about this unmanned aircraft is that it will carry two types of engines. There will be a normal jet engine to get the plane up to Mach 3 and a ramjet to push it to its top speed.
SR-72 in flight over the ocean. The plane, reportedly, can reach Mach 6. (Image from Lockheed Martin)
The SR-72 may be slated to enter service in 2030, but Popular Mechanics reported that Lockheed had announced progress on the project. More tellingly, that same publication reported that a demonstrator was seen at the Skunk Works plant. America's super-fast eye in the sky may be here sooner than expected.
Learn more about this new plane in the video below: