A short promotional video, made jointly by the United States Air Force and Space Force, shows a model of what appears to be the SR-72 spy plane, also known as the Son of Blackbird.
The aircraft appears at the very end of the video, with only an outline and a few details visible. The object is most likely a computer-generated image or a mockup, but it provides confirmation that the US military is working on the mysterious plane.
The rumors that Lockheed Martin is planning a successor to the SR-71, a famous cold war-era reconnaissance plane, date back to the late 2000s.
Very little is known about the project. According to Lockheed Martin, it is intended to be unmanned and fly at speeds exceeding Mach 6, or six times the speed of sound. To reach such speeds, the aircraft should use a turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engine, which blends a turbine engine for below-Mach 3 flight and a ramjet for higher speeds.
It was also said to be capable of carrying hypersonic missiles, shifting the focus from a pure reconnaissance platform. According to the manufacturer, the prime purpose of such a plane would be penetrating contested airspaces and striking highly valuable targets.
However, the video, published on November 18, 2021, by the USAF Profession of Arms Center of Excellence (PACE) Youtube channel, focuses on intelligence gathering capabilities of the service, touting its ability to “[conduct] recon faster than the speed of war”. This might show that the military still considers the SR-72 as a spy plane, or at least as a platform capable of performing as one.
Numerous other mysterious projects can be glimpsed in the video. Those include, most prominently, the Northrop Grumman RQ-180 high-altitude flying-wing reconnaissance drone, referred to as the White Bat. Never officially confirmed, the drone has been accidently spotted in various locations all over the world, and is speculated to be a successor to the similarly mysterious RQ-170 Sentinel.
The video also shows an outline of the Boeing X-37 space plane, seen on the screen of a sort of command center. A ballistic launch trajectory is shown on another screen, alluding to the idea that a mission of the vehicle is being monitored. The official purpose of the X-37 is to test various new technologies in orbit, although the nature of those technologies was never revealed.