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NASA release rare footage of the fastest plane to ever exist

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Yes, actually, it is - but not just any plane! The SR-71 Blackbird is the fastest manned aircraft in existence, and NASA has just released footage of it in action.

The SR-71 was built by Lockheed Martin, an aerospace defence company, over fifty years ago. It made its first flight in December 1964, and was used by NASA all the way up to 1999, at which time it was retired due to its extensive operating costs. During their 35 years of service, not one of the planes was ever hit by a missile.

Now that Lockheed has confirmed that plans to build the SR-72 are underway, NASA has posted a number of videos showcasing the original Blackbird in all its awesome glory. Capable of reaching a top speed of Mach 3 (which, in layman's terms is around 2,200 miles per hour), the SR-71 easily surpasses the speed of sound.

To get an idea of just how quick that is, here's a clip of it taking off...

Impressive, right? But that's nothing compared to seeing it in flight. This next clip shows the Blackbird soaring over the California Desert. With a maximum altitude of almost 26,000 meters (85,000 feet), the SR-71 is capable of reaching heights over twice as great as regular commercial flights, which usually peak at around 11,890 meters (39,000 feet).

Only 32 of these astounding planes were ever built, which explains why footage like this is so hard to come by.

Lockheed's next project is set to be bigger and better still, with plans for the SR-72 to have the ability of 'hypersonic' flight. Hypersonic speed is over mach 5 (3,835 miles per hour or above), meaning that a plane travelling at this rate could circumnavigate the world in just 6 and a half hours - which wouldn't even be enough time to marathon a single season of Game of Thrones.

Tom Ward from the online publication Futurism explains that,

"It is only now that we really have the technology required to overcome the extreme heat (surface temperatures exceed 1,000 degrees Celsius) and changes in air that occur at these ludicrous speeds, as well as developing ways to introduce them into common usage by tackling factors like the deafening boom caused by breaking the sound barrier."

Brad Leland, a Lockheed engineer who has lead the research team towards making the SR-72, declined to say how much the company had invested in the project. “What we are doing is defining a missile that would have a small incremental cost to go at hypersonic speed,” Leland said in a statement to Reuters.

He also disclosed that top Pentagon officials had been informed about the plans for the SR-72 - dubbed 'Blackbird's son' - and were interested to find out more about new kinds of technology which could replace stealth.

Though these kinds of aircraft would not be used for commercial flights, there is competition amongst other developers to create more advanced types of air travel for the likes of you and me. And, while the idea of travelling at nearly 4000 mph is absolutely terrifying for me, I'm keen to see where this technology could take us.