A Lockheed Martin executive hinted at a recent aerospace conference that the SR-72, the hypersonic successor to the SR-71 Blackbird, may already exist, according to Bloomberg.
Jack O'Banion, a vice president at Lockheed's Skunk Works, made mysterious comments about the ultra-secret project at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' annual SciTech Forum.
O'Banion said that new design tools and more powerful computers brought about a "digital transformation" and "without [that] digital transformation, the aircraft you see there could not have been made," Bloomberg's Justin Bachman reported, adding that O'Banion then showed a slide of the SR-72.
This digital transformation reportedly gave Lockheed the ability to design a three-dimensional scramjet engine. Scramjet is a kind of ramjet air-breathing jet engine where combustion happens at supersonic speeds.
O'Banion said that five years ago Lockheed "couldn't have made the engine itself — it would have melted down into slag," according to Bloomberg.
"But now we can digitally print that engine with an incredibly sophisticated cooling system integral into the material of the engine itself and have that engine survive for multiple firings for routine operation," O'Banion said.
Jack O'Bannion, VP of Strategy at Skunk Works, is speaking today at SciTech conference. He showed a slide of the SR-72 and said: "Without digital transformation that aircraft you see there could not have been made." Soooo ... does that mean that aircraft was made? pic.twitter.com/dD7ovOG0rg
— Stephen Trimble (@FG_STrim) January 8, 2018
Lockheed Martin did not respond to any Business Insider's request for comment, and declined to answer any further questions from Bloomberg. The U.S. Air Force also declined to answer any questions from Business Insider.
Lockheed announced it was developing the SR-72 in 2013, and that the "Son of Blackbird" would hit Mach 6 — over 4,500 mph — and possibly be operational by 2030.
Last year, reports emerged that Lockheed might test an "optionally piloted" flight research vehicle in 2018, and an actual test flight in 2020.
Reporters at Aviation Week also reportedly caught a glimpse last year of a "demonstrator vehicle" that may have been linked to the SR-72.
And, in perhaps a more far-fetched development, an American man named Tyler Gluckner, who runs a popular YouTube channel about aliens and UFOs called secureteam10, recently posted a video of images from GoogleEarth that he surmised looked like a hypersonic craft, reported by The Sun and Mailonline.
The satellite images were taken outside of a Pratt and Whitney building, which is not part of the Lockheed conglomerate.
Coincidentally or not, Boeing also unveiled a conceptual model for a new hypersonic jet that would hit Mach 5 and fulfill the same missions as the SR-71 at the same aerospace conference O'Banion spoke at.
Lockheed and Boeing are two of the largest defense contractors and political donors in the U.S.