Tag: SR-72

Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force Video

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force Video
What appears to be the SR-72 is visible in this digitally altered screenshot from the USAF video.

Several interesting projects are featured in a short promotional video, including the secretive SR-72 and the RQ-180.

A video, published on Youtube on Nov. 8, 2021, by the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence (PACE) under the title “Heritage Today – ISR and Innovation” provides a new look at some of the most interesting and secretive U.S. ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) projects.

The less than 3 minutes clip is an overview of the evolution of the ISR mission since the beginning. At the 2:25 mark, after showing a flying RQ-4 Global Hawk, the video focuses on a stealthy flying-wing drone whose planform appears to be similar to the artworks published on the front cover of Aviation Week & Space Technology when the project was unveiled in 2013. The planform image is introduced by the following commentary: “The days of balloons and biplanes have been replaced by white bats,” and considered that the RQ-180 is nicknamed the “Great White Bat” (or sometimes “Shikaka”, a fictional sacred white bat from the 1995 movie Ace Ventura 2), the appearance of the cranked kite design clearly alludes to the new clandestine spy drone.

Still, it’s worth noticing that the shape of the drone featured in the latest USAF video does not fit the one of the unmanned aircraft, believed to be indeed a real RQ-180, spotted over California, last year, and the Philippines earlier this year. In other words, we are probably not shown the actual RQ-180 but something loosely similar to it, in preparation of a somehow official unveiling.

- Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force VideoThe cranked-kite planform that alludes to the RQ-180 White Bat in a screenshot from the USAF video

However, the one of the “”White Bat” is not the only interesting “cameo” or easter egg you can find in the video.

The really interesting one, comes later, at the 2:34 mark, when the video cuts to the dark image of a sleek and stealthy aircraft in a hangar that seems to match the shape of the SR-71 successor, also unofficially dubbed the “Son of Blackbird“, the Lockheed SR-72.

The SR-72 is an unmanned hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and strike platform designed for Mach 6. Very little is known about this aircraft besides some alleged sightings, rumoured every now and then, and the presumed date for a first flight possibly in 2025.

Again, the one in the USAF clip is probably just a computer-generated image, with many different details and possibly a significantly different shape than the real thing; still it’s worth of remark since it is one of the very few (somewhat official) allusions to the new aircraft that the service has done since the program was revealed. For the records, the SR-72 was featured in a poster issued by the Air Force in 2017 for the 70th anniversary of the service, that you can find here: the shape appears to be pretty much the same as the mysterious aircraft in the latest video.

Interestingly, the video also shows the outline of the secretive X-37B spaceplane in a display of what seems to be a command center.

- Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force VideoThe silhouette of the X-37B can be seen in a screen of a sort of command and control center for the spaceplane.

We have wrote a lot about the X-37B in the past here at The Aviationist. Here below you can find an excerpt with some of the key facts and some theories about the missions it carries out:

The Air Force’s X-37B began as a test project with NASA in 1999 but was acquired by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2004. Most sources list two operational X-37B spacecraft and a single X-37A. The fact that only three exist, their missions and roles are classified and they operate in space makes them incredibly difficult to get photos of, especially when performing an active mission as in Vandebergh’s photos.

Little is known about the current role of the two X-37Bs and the single X-37A. Most likely the X-37Bs are in some form of “operational test” use with the USAF while the X-37A reportedly remains a combined Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA spacecraft with an equally secretive role.

While most information in the public domain lists both the X-37B and X-37A as “test” vehicles, the X-37B has performed unusually long duration space flights for testing.

Three theories [about the type of missions the X-37B has carried out thus far] have prevailed:

The first theory is that the X-37B is a space-based weapons platform. The spacecraft is pre-deployed into orbit armed with some type of weaponized re-entry vehicle that could be released over or near a specific target. It may also be a weapons delivery vehicle deployed in defense of space-based commercial assets such as the GPS satellite constellation. This theory is debunked by most analysts.

Secondly, and most plausibly, the spacecraft may be a platform for gathering intelligence. This could include signals intelligence such as activities of communications and surveillance satellites, both civilian and military. With approximately 2,271 satellites in orbit around the earth at various altitudes performing a wide variety of functions this theory tends to be the most realistic. It may also be ground mapping radar and other surveillance mediums. Since the large internal payload bay of the X-37B, about the size of the interior of a small general aviation aircraft such as a Cessna Caravan, is interchangeable the spacecraft could be “mission adaptive”, meaning it could be reconfigured for various types of surveillance. That this last mission was so long in duration suggests the X-37B may have had a means of transmitting intelligence from space back down to earth, somehow beyond the capabilities of existing space based surveillance platforms like satellites.

Lastly, and most unlikely, the X-37B remains a research project. It could potentially be a test bed for deploying satellites and servicing them robotically in space, releasing new orbital packages into space or any number of other roles not yet performed operationally. Given the duration and investment into the program along with the operational security surrounding it this theory seems least likely. A major part of X-37B operations are administered by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a shadowy U.S. government agency located in Arlington, Virginia.

f5260c1a4f5417527329915544c2932f?s=125&d=mm&r=g - Secretive SR-72 Spy Plane And RQ-180 Spy Drone Teased In Recent U.S. Air Force Video
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

Virgin Galactic Unveils New Mach 3 Civilian Aircraft Concept

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gif;base64,R0lGODlhAQABAAAAACH5BAEKAAEALAAAAAABAAEAAAICTAEAOw== - Virgin Galactic Unveils New Mach 3 Civilian Aircraft Concept
A rendering of the commercial supersonic aircraft being developed by Virgin Galactic. (Image: Virgin Galactic)

On August 3, 2020, Virgin Galactic unveiled a concept for a new civilian high-speed aircraft, following the completion of a Mission Concept Review (MCR) and authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Center for Emerging Concepts and Innovation.

The aircraft, which doesn’t have an official name yet, is said to be capable of continuous Mach 3 flight at an altitude above 60,000 feet. The delta wing aircraft is reminiscent of the British-French Concorde, with a streamlined profile and underwing engine nacelles, but probably smaller as the company stated that it will have a capacity for nine to 19 people (depending on the cabin configuration), while the Concorde had seating configurations for 92 to 128 passengers.

According to Virgin Galactic, with the MCR the team behind the project confirmed, after extensive research and analysis work, that the concept can meet the design goals and proceed to define the aircraft’s systems and materials, while addressing thermal management, maintenance, noise, emissions and economic fleet sustainment.

The MCR also included representatives, after the company signed back in May 2020 a Space Act Agreement with the agency to collaborate “in order to advance the United States’ efforts to produce technically feasible, high Mach vehicles for potential civil applications”.

NASA have years of experience with supersonic aircraft technology and is currently working in partnership with Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division to develop the X-59 QueSST (Quiet Supersonic Technology), an aircraft designed to generate a quieter sonic boom which should be within acceptable noise levels to help the FAA to lift the ban on commercial supersonic travel over land imposed in 1973. Data gathered from this program could probably find its way into the design of Virgin’s aircraft.

Virgin Galactic Mach3 1 - Virgin Galactic Unveils New Mach 3 Civilian Aircraft Concept
Another rendering of the commercial supersonic aircraft being developed by Virgin Galactic. (Image: Virgin Galactic)

Last year the agency proposed new rules for supersonic aircraft and also indicated it could revisit the ban if technological changes mitigating the noise impact of supersonic flight should arise. The X-59, which should fly for the first time next year, is being designed to cruise at 55,000ft and Mach 1.4 according to NASA, with a sonic boom of less than 75 perceived dB on the ground, about a third less than the Concorde, which was reported around 100-110 dB.

Additionally, Virgin Galactic signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rolls-Royce to collaborate in designing and developing the engine that will be used for this project. The cooperation with Rolls-Royce, the same manufacturer of the Concorde’s Olympus engines, is also focused to include in the engine’s design the use of state-of-the-art sustainable aviation fuel.

The Concorde, together with the Soviet Tu-144, was a technological wonder for the era. Even if it was designed in the 1960s, the Concorde already featured carbon-fiber brakes and fly-by-wire controls. The aircraft, however, suffered from some drawbacks like the high fuel consumption of approximately 6,700 gallons per hour, limited range that was just enough to cross the Atlantic Ocean, and the noise generated by the sonic boom, which restricted the aircraft to fly supersonically only over the water. The 2000 crash in Paris may have definitively marked the time to move away from supersonic airliners, which led to the Concorde being retired in 2003.

Virgin said that their design philosophy is focused to make high speed travel practical, sustainable, safe, and reliable, with the new aircraft being able to operate like a standard airliner from existing airports without the need for special infrastructure. The Mach 3 aircraft is just one of the projects of Virgin Galactic, as the company is also working on starting commercial sub-orbital flights from Spaceport America (New Mexico) with their reusable SpaceShipTwo spaceflight system.

While Virgin works on a new supersonic civilian aircraft, on the military side it’s not a secret that Lockheed is working on new unmanned aircraft concept, an SR-71 follow-on, colloquially referred to in most media as the “SR-72” that should have global range, be able to fly in excess of Mach 6, be low-observable and potentially have strike capability. The new hypersonic UAV concept mainly intended for ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions was announced in 2013. In November 2018, Lockheed Martin stated that a prototype of the SR-72 was scheduled to fly by 2025.

air france concorde - Virgin Galactic Unveils New Mach 3 Civilian Aircraft Concept
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