At the beginning of the year, Boeing revealed a concept design at an aerospace forum for a strike and reconaissance aircraft that could fly five times the speed of sound—a spiritual successor to the famed Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird reconaissance plane. A model and artist’s rendering show a twin-tail, highly swept delta-wing jet in a so-called “waverider” configuration, meaning the hypersonic aircraft would use the shock waves it produces during flight to increase lift and reduce drag.
The Boeing concept is thought to be internally called “Valkyrie II,” according to Guy Norris at Aviation Week, though Boeing has not yet green-lighted development of the aircraft. If the aerospace company does move forward with a hypersonic strike and reconaissance plane, it would likely build a scaled, single-engine, proof-of-concept demonstrator aircraft about the size of an F-16 before moving on to a full-scale, twin-engine aircraft the size of the 107-foot-long SR-71.
Boeing’s hypersonic project, if it gets off the ground, would compete directly with Lockheed Martin, which built the SR-71 and is planning a successor called the SR-72. Boeing and Lockheed’s designs are very similar, both planning to use a combined-cycle engine that uses a conventional turbojet to accelerate to roughly Mach 3, and then a dual ramjet/scramjet to make the jump to hypersonic speeds. Boeing is working with Orbital ATK to develop an engine, while Lockheed has partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne.
Aviation Week reports that Boeing is constantly modifying its hypersonic design, and the bulge in the forward fuselage seen in the concept images and models is likely going to change. Piloted jets to replace the SR-71 are not off the table, but the “son of Blackbird,” whether built by Boeing or Lockheed, would likely be designed for uncrewed flight.
Details about these two hypersonic programs continue to leak out, and the work behind closed doors could be a step ahead of what Boeing and Lockheed have revealed. Read more about Boeing’s hypersonic ambitions at Aviation Week & Space Technology.