SR-72 Update And The New Super Tanker For Fire Fighting - April 1, 2016

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SR-72 Update And The New Super Tanker For Fire Fighting – April 1, 2016

Robert Novells’ Third Dimension Blog

April 1, 2016

Good Morning and Happy Friday,

This week I would like to give you an update on the SR-72 as well as introduce you to the new fire fighting Supertanker. I hope everyone had a good week and the weekend will offer a respite from the workplace.


Lockheed Pushing $1 Billion

Mach 6 Air Breather

Lockheed Martin’s unmanned SR-72 aircraft concept has surfaced again with renewed vigour, with company leadership now pushing a reusable, air-breathing hypersonic vehicle as an “affordable” way to validate a new propulsion concept for achieving speeds within the atmosphere between Mach 6.0 to Mach 20.

Speaking at a Lockheed media event in Washington DC on 15 March, company chief executive Marillyn Hewson confirmed that the company is building on “several breakthroughs” made during the short-lived HTV-3X Blackswift hypersonic testbed, which was de-funded by Congress in fiscal year 2009, to develop “a controllable, low-drag aerodynamic configuration capable of stable operation from takeoff to subsonic, transonic, supersonic and hypersonic to Mach 6”.

Hewson, while displaying an artist’s rendering of the SR-72, said it would cost “less than $1 billion” to develop and fly a demonstrator aircraft the size of a the company’s F-22 Raptor.

Devised by Lockheed’s Skunk Works division, SR-72 employs a turbine-based combined cycle propulsion system to get above “Mach 1.5 to 2.0”, at which point it would begin converting to a supersonic combustion ramjet for speeds beyond Mach 6.

That is according to Skunk Works head Rob Weiss, who confirmed that it would be an unmanned vehicle, at least at first. Hewson says the company’s long-term ambition is to “enable hypersonic passenger flights and easier access to space”.

The company’s militarised spinoffs could be an air-breathing, hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft, or perhaps even new fighters and bombers further along.

Weiss says there is government interest but no programme of record currently, although the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) might want to pick up where Blackswift ended and launch a proof-of-concept demonstration.

Lockheed revealed its next-generation version of the famed SR-71 Blackbird, the SR-72, in 2013 and has said it would hope to introduce a reusable hypersonic aircraft in the mid-2020s or so. The challenge is transitioning through Mach 3.0 – since modern turbojet engines are only capable of powering an aircraft to Mach 2.2, whereas typical ramjets don’t work below Mach 4.0.

Hewson and Weiss pointed to Lockheed’s investments in hypersonic propulsion technology and high-temperature materials, but did not say exactly how its concept will transition to from zero all the way up to hypersonic speeds except through combined propulsion technologies.

Source Document

Now, let’s look at Lockheed’s description of this fire breathing dragon designed to replace the SR-71.

Meet The SR-72

In 1976, U.S. Air Force SR-71 Blackbird crews flew from New York to London in less than two hours, reaching speeds exceeding Mach 3 and setting world records that have held up for nearly four decades.

But those world records may not stay unbroken for long.

That’s because today, at the birthplace of the Blackbird – Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works® – engineers are developing a hypersonic aircraft that will go twice the speed of the SR-71. It’s called the SR-72

Son of the Blackbird

The SR-71 was developed using 20th century technology. It was envisioned with slide rules and paper. It wasn’t managed by millions of lines of software code. And it wasn’t powered by computer chips.  All that changes with the SR-72.

Envisioned as an unmanned aircraft, the SR-72 would fly at speeds up to Mach 6, or six times the speed of sound. At this speed, the aircraft would be so fast, an adversary would have no time to react or hide.

“Hypersonic aircraft, coupled with hypersonic missiles, could penetrate denied airspace and strike at nearly any location across a continent in less than an hour,” said Brad Leland, Lockheed Martin program manager, Hypersonics. “Speed is the next aviation advancement to counter emerging threats in the next several decades. The technology would be a game-changer in theater, similar to how stealth is changing the battlespace today.”


A hypersonic plane does not have to be an expensive, distant possibility.  In fact, an SR-72 could be operational by 2030. For the past several years, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works® has been working with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop a method to integrate an off-the-shelf turbine with a supersonic combustion ramjet air breathing jet engine to power the aircraft from standstill to Mach 6. The result is the SR-72 that Aviation Week has dubbed “son of Blackbird,” and integrated engine and airframe that is optimized at the system level for high performance and affordability.

Source Document

 747-400 Global Super Tanker Gets Ready For Action

(By:James Drew of Flightglobal)


The world’s largest aerial firefighting asset, the Boeing 747-400-based Global Super Tanker, is almost ready to begin commercial operations.

Jim Wheeler, president and chief executive of Global Super Tanker Services, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, expects the US Federal Aviation Administration to approve an amended supplemental type certificate in early May.

Investment group Alterna Capital Partners completed its purchase of the 747-400, which it part-owned for several years, in August, with the aircraft having undergone a heavy maintenance check the following month.

“We had 28 airworthiness directives we had to comply with, and all of that work was done to put the airplane back into pristine condition,” Wheeler told Flightglobal at the Aerial Firefighting International trade convention in Sacramento, California on 23 March. “Then we began painting and installing the tanks in the January/February time frame.”

The heavy-lift freighter, registration N492EV, was received by Japan Airlines in 1991 and sold on to Evergreen International. It is currently flying under an experimental type certificate and is on static display at the convention.

Once it begins commercial operations, Wheeler expects to secure several on-call service contracts with various entities worldwide. He expects enough demand between firefighting in the northern and southern hemispheres, plus oil slick dispersion and commercial liquid transport, to justify a fleet of “at least three aircraft, and maybe more”.

“It’s based here in the US and it will probably be on-call here more than anywhere else, but we have been to Australia, Germany, Croatia, France and the European Union in Brussels discussing this and the reception has been superb,” says Wheeler. “Being global and having a broader business plan than just wildfire fighting makes this an incredibly viable product and service offering to the whole world.”

Global Super Tanker is looking for on-call contracts over fixed, exclusive-use deals, so that its aircraft can be available whenever and wherever they are needed most.

The tanker fills a worldwide gap in super-heavy, long-range aerial firefighting capability, left by the retirement of the Evergreen 747-100 Supertanker because of financial troubles. That tanker previously held on-call firefighting contracts with the US Forest Service, and one of its last deployments was to Israel during the deadly Mt Carmel forest fire.

Global Super Tanker now owns the technical data and onboard tanking system, which is installed but not quite ready for service. “We were delayed about three weeks longer than we anticipated in the paint shop, so as soon as it leaves here [Sacramento], it’ll go back and finish the tank installation, which should take anywhere from seven to 10 days,” Wheeler explains.

The eight main tanks can carry 74,200l (19,600gal) of water, retardant or oil dispersant. Powered by four General Electric CF6-80-B1F engines, the 747-400 can carry that load over 4,000nm (7,400km) at speeds approaching 520kt (960km/h).

Wheeler notes that despite its sheer size and capacity, the Super Tanker is safer than many direct-attack water bombers for people on the ground, because its payload is dispersed over a wider area – more like heavy rain than a water dump.

Source Document

Have a good weekend, be safe, and remember –  keep family and friends close. Life is short and tomorrow when we wake up our  lives are one day shorter,

Robert Novell

April 1, 2016