“It is time to acknowledge the existence of the SR-72 because of the HSSW going forward,” says Leland. Together with the strategic “pivot to the Pacific,” the concept of high-speed ISR is “starting to gain traction,” he notes. “According to the hypersonic road map, the path to the aircraft is through the missile, so now it is time to get the critical demonstration going.” These would test individual elements of the propulsion system, which would then be integrated for the full-scale FRV evaluation.
“We have been continuing to invest company funds, and we are kind of at a point where the next steps would require large-scale testing, which would significantly increase the level of investment we've had to make to-date. Between Darpa and the Air Force, it would be highly likely they'd have to fund the next steps,” Leland says. The FRV will also give the Skunk Works a better idea on overall development costs, he adds.
As for rumors of an existing high-speed ISR aircraft, Leland is dismissive. “It's been almost 20 years since the SR-71 was retired. If there was a replacement, they've been hiding it pretty well,” he says.
Tap the icon in the digital edition of AW&ST to see a detailed comparison of the SR-71 and SR-72 engine cycles, or go to AviationWeek.com/hyperengines
And read AW&ST's 1981 pilot report on the SR-71 at AviationWeek.com/sr71