The SR-71 Blackbird has had an almost immeasurable effect on the world we live in today.  Its record as the fastest aircraft ever to take to the skies speaks to the incredible engineering and problem solving employed by Lockheed Martin in the 1960s, and the reconnaissance missions it carried out over the Soviet Union and other potential enemies of the United States in the decades since have helped keep the U.S. one step ahead of potential threats, and 50,000 feet above commercial airliners.

Testing the SR-71 and its predecessor, the A-12 Oxcart, over Groom Lake, Nevada (also known in some circles as “Area 51”) added to the mystery surrounding the facility and likely contributed to reports of UFOs in the skies within 2,500 miles of the airstrip.  Our love affair with this aircraft continues in pop-culture to this day, as even the X-Men seem to be flying a version of the SR-71 that allows for vertical takeoffs and landings in Fox’s movie series.

Black Bird Jet from X-Men First Class

Whether it’s because of the public’s love affair with the SR-71, or because of its near mythical performance and strategic benefit, Lockheed Martin isn’t ignoring the legend that is their Skunkworks’ crowning achievement.  In an article produced for Aviation Week, Lockheed divulged some information about the long-awaited successor to the SR-71, appropriately dubbed, the SR-72.

Lockheed’s division for advanced aircraft development, commonly referred to as the Skunk Works, told Aviation Week that producing a formidable replacement for the SR-71, which was retired in 1998, has been delayed as they waited for hypersonic technologies to improve.  Now, a new combined-cycle propulsion system that merges a supersonic jet engine with a rocket promises to offer the SR-72 performance that leaves its namesake in the proverbial dust.  While the SR-71’s record setting top speed is said to have exceeded MACH 3 (approximately 2,300 miles per hour) the SR-72, equipped with two hybrid jet/rocket engines could potentially surpass MACH 6 – depending on the aircraft’s design being able to manage the friction created by air traveling over its control surfaces at such high speeds.