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SR-71 Blackbird

United States Air Force SR-71
The Lockheed SR-71, unofficially known as the Blackbird, is a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft by Lockheed's Skunkworks, which was also responsible for the U-2 and many other advanced aircraft.. The first flight of an SR-71 took place on December 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later, 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California, in January 1966. The U.S. Air Force retired its fleet of SR-71s on January 26, 1990, because of a decreasing defense budget and high costs of operation. The USAF returned the SR-71 to the active Air Force inventory in 1995 and began flying operational missions in January 1997. The planes were permanently retired in 1998.

Throughout its nearly 30+ year career, the SR-71 remained the world's fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft. From 80,000 feet it could survey 100,000 square miles of Earth's surface per hour. On July 28, 1976, an SR-71 set two world records for its class: an absolute speed record of 2,193.167 miles per hour and an absolute altitude record of 85,068.997 feet. When the SR-71 was retired in 1990, one was flown from Palmdale Airbase to go on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute's National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., setting a coast-to-coast speed record at an average 2124 miles per hour. The entire trip took only 68 minutes.

On March 21, 1968 Major (later General) Jerome F. O'Malley and Major Edward D. Payne made the first operational SR-71 sortie. During its career, this aircraft accumulated 2,981 flying hours and flew 942 total sorties (more than any other SR-71), including 257 operational missions, from Beale AFB, California; Palmdale, California; Kadena Air Base, Okinawa and RAF (Base) Mildenhall, England. The aircraft was flown to the United States Air Force Museum in March 1990.

Thirty-two planes were built. Of these, 12 were lost in flight accidents but all crews ejected safely.

The original designation for the aircraft was the RS-71. However when the aircraft was announced by Lyndon B. Johnson on February 29. 1964, Johnson accidentally switched the letters for the name of the aircraft, which forced Lockheed to instantly change the name of the aircraft.

Similar to the SR-71 were the A-11 and A-12 which were prototypes for the Blackbird, and the YF-12 which was an attempt to convert the SR-71 into a long range fighter.

Table of contents
1 General characteristics
2 Variants
3 Details
4 External Links
5 See also

General characteristics


The most notable variant of the basic SR-71 design was the M-21. This was a SR-71 platform modified to carry and launch the D-21B drone, an unpiloted, faster and higher flying reconnaissance device. Confusingly this variant was known as the M-21 when drone was absent, and the MD-21 when it was attached to the plane. The D-21B drone was completely autonomous, having been launched it would overfly the target, travel to a rendevous point and eject its data package. The package would be recovered in midair by a C-130 Hercules and the drone would self destruct. The program to develop this system was canceled in 1966 after a drone crashed into the mother ship shortly after being launched, destroying the M-21 and killing the Launch Control Officer.

The only surviving D-21B drone from the M-21 program is on display at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, USA.


The airframe was made of titanium. This titanium was obtained from Russia during the height of the cold war, so the builder used all possible guises to prevent the Russians from knowing what it was to be used for. In order to keep the costs under control, they used a lesser grade of titanium which softened at a lower temperature and then painted the aircraft black to dissipate heat.

Due to the great temperature changes occurring during flight, the fuselage panels were essentially loose. Proper alignment was only achieved when the airframe warmed up due to the air resistance at high speeds and expanded several inches. Because of this, and the lack of a fuel sealing system that could handle the extreme temperatures that the SR-71 flew at, the aircraft would actually leak its specially formulated JP-7 jet fuel onto the runway before it took off. The aircraft would quickly make a short sprint, meant to warm up the airframe, and was then air-to-air refueled before departing on its mission. Cooling was carried out by cycling fuel behind the titanium surfaces at the front of the wings (chines). Nonetheless, once the airplane landed no one could approach it for some time as its canopy was still hotter than 300 degrees celsius!

The SR-71 was one of the first stealthy aircraft. It incorporated radar absorbing materials to absorb radar and was shaped to have a the lowest radar signature they could make without requiring more computer power than they had at the time.

External Links

See also