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SR-71 Blackbird


United States Air Force SR-71
(Blackbird)
Larger version
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 a group known as the skunk works. 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 Museum in Washington, DC 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.

General characteristics

  • Span: 55 ft. 7 in.
  • Length: 107 ft. 5 in.
  • Height: 18 ft. 6 in.
  • Weight: 170,000 lbs. loaded
  • Armament: None
  • Engines: Two Pratt and Whitney J58s of 32,500 pounds-thrust each with afterburner
  • Crew: Two
  • Maximum speed: greater than 2,000 mph.
  • Range: greater than 2,900 miles
  • Service Ceiling: greater than 85,000 feet
  • Total Number Built: 32

Variants 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.



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