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Speed has a quality of all its own. Given the extraordinary American experience with the heat disapating ceramic tiles used to clad the exterior of the former space shuttle, only they, not China nor Russia can field a bird that beats Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.

Back in the day, at slower speeds of mach 3.2 the exterior of the now retired SR71 used to glow red as temperatures produced by atmospheric friction exceeded 800 degrees. Made of titanium the Black Bird leaked its unique JP9 fuel until when it reached higher speeds the heat caused frame to expand thus sealed the leaks. Only then could it top off the tank for a run over Russia, China, Cuba or what ever potentate the Pentagon wanted to rattle with a Mach 3.2 sonic boom.

Think of Fidel Castro lighting a nasty cigar only to be startled by a window shattering boom. Castro you just got overflown with impunity by the USAF.

Imagine Mach 5? You will not have to do so much longer.

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"Hypersonics is like stealth. It is a disruptive technology and will enable various platforms to operate at two to three times the speed of the Blackbird,” Carvalho told Aviation Week. “Operational survivability and lethality is the ultimate deterrent. Security classification guidance will only allow us to say the speed is greater than Mach 5.”

The successor to Lockheed Martin’s SR-71 Blackbird, the Mach 3 long-range recon aircraft that once tore across the skies like a Cold-War era arrowhead before its retirement in 1999, may be inching closer toward reality.

According to Aviation Week, a handful of visitors to the SAE International Aerotech Congress and Exhibition at Fort Worth, Texas, this week reported catching glimpses of a “demonstrator vehicle” believed to be linked to the proposed replacement: the SR-72.

To read more on The National Interest:

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