The Secret SR-72 Darkstar: America's Mach 6 Bomber?

SR-72 Darkstar
Top Secret SR-72 Darkstar

Yes, a plane called "Darkstar" can be seen in Top Gun: Maverick. However, as one might expect, there are numerous explanations and this is an SR-72 test. While this is all speculation, here is what we know so far about this possible top-secret spy plane, strike aircraft, or bomber: The Lockheed Martin SR-72 has even advanced beyond the development stage.

But it has at least two things that make it famous. First, it is the successor to the famous SR-71 Blackbird, which was the world's fastest plane when it was built in the 1960s and is now 58 years old. It was developed 23 years after its official retirement age, which is why it unofficially has the same speed as well as a cruise of Mach 6 (4,000 miles per hour), which is almost twice as fast as its predecessor.

As Al Romig, then-Vice President of Skunk Works’ Engineering and Advanced Systems, proclaimed back in 2013, “Speed is the new stealth.” The craft’s mind-boggling cruising speed will (theoretically at least) be made possible by using revolutionary engines that combine a high-speed turbojet and a scramjet; for the benefit of readers curious to know how scramjets work, NASA has published a handy Fact Sheet.

OK, but what about the payload?

Precisely what these strike capabilities entail is still very much in the air (excuse the terrible pun). "The exact payload is a secret," Clay Dillow admitted in a 2015 article for Popular Science. Most likely, it hasn’t yet been invented. Extraordinary engineering is required for Mach 6 operations like spy photography or bomb drops. Making a turn will require dozens of hours and hundreds of miles. It will need powerful guidance computers to be able to align itself with the target 80,000 feet below. Furthermore, you cannot simply open a bomb bay while traveling at 4,000 kilometers per hour. For the SR-72 to be able to move at such high speeds, its sensors and weapons will need to be updated.

However, current combat drones such as the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 have changed the game so much on the battlefields of Ukraine and the Nagorno-Karabakh War that it is difficult to imagine what an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with the ability to travel at hypersonic speeds and fire weapons accurately and reliably could do in a conflict like the Nagorno-Karabakh War.
Given that executives from Lockheed Martin stated in 2018 that a prototype of the SR-72 would fly before 2025, only time will tell whether or not they were correct.

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