The SR-71 Blackbird was based on the A-11 as an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft capable of flying at high altitudes and reaching Mach 3 speeds. Lockheed began manufacturing the SR-71 in February of 1963. On December 22 of the following year, the plane completed its first test flight in absolute secrecy, and the work on the airplane continued without the public’s knowledge.
On February 29, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson revealed that a U.S. military aircraft had reached speeds exceeding 2,000 mph during test flights. From then on, though many details about the SR-71 remain classified to this day, but the world knew that a new generation of spy aircraft had been born. The SR-71 is still the world’s fastest aircraft, though rumors persist that it’s been replaced by an even faster plane that has yet to be revealed publicly.
Though intended to be invisible to radar, the SR-71 is anything but that. In fact, it’s easily detectable from several hundred miles away. Because it’s unarmed, the SR-71’s best defense is to fly high and fast. Considering that it can reach an altitude of 85,000 feet and fly faster than Mach 3.3, that’s a pretty good strategy.
The Blackbird’s pilot and systems operator must wear full-pressure suits like the first astronauts used to wear. This allows their bodies to handle the excessive altitudes and high speeds capable by the aircraft. The titanium alloy airframe is necessary to withstand the heat generated at such high speeds. The SR-71’s trademark black paint that gives it its nickname Blackbird was originally intended to absorb radar and the special paint also helps to minimize the surface heat that builds up as the plane increases speed.
The SR-71 was originally retired from service in 1998. It briefly reappeared from 1995 until its final retirement in 1998. At the Museum of Flight in Seattle, visitors can sit inside the cockpit of a real SR-71 and play with the controls and admire the impressive and unsurpassed specifications of this great aircraft:
Maximum speed: Mach 3.3+
Cruise speed: Mach 3.2
Range: 3,200 nm
Length: 107′ 5″
Wingspan: 55′ 7″
Height: 18′ 6″
Maximum weight: 170,000 lbs.
Empty weight: 59,000 lbs.
Engine(s): Two Pratt & Whittney J-58 engines.
Rate of climb: 11,810 ft per minute
Contractor: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation
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