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   Video Clip #1   Video Clip #2 (Fly-over)   Video Clip #3 (Take-off)   Video Clip #4 (Cruisin')


Blackbird Info:

The 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. 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 a few years later. 


Throughout its nearly 24-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. 


On March 21, 1968, in the aircraft on display, 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, Calif.; Palmdale, Calif.; Kadena Air Base, Okinawa and RAF (Base) Mildenhall, England. The aircraft was flown to the Museum in March 1990. 


The SR-71 was the last in a series of aircraft that the famous Lockheed Skunk Works manufactured called the Blackbird Series (excluding the current stealth aircraft). There was the original A11, A12, YF-12A, M21, and the SR-71A,B and C. There was also a proposal to build a Blackbird Bomber (designated B12). Out of all of these aircraft the one that stands out is the Interceptor version of the Blackbirds called the YF12A.


The Blackbird evolved from an earlier aircraft, known as the A-12. The A-12 was flown by the CIA and was almost identical to the SR-71, except that it was a single seat version. The SR-71 was developed by Lockheed's " Skunk Works" in the early 60's by key designer and pilot, the legendary Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. The first aircraft was delivered to SAC in 1964.


The SR-71's mission was reconnaissance and it carried no armament. It filled its role exceedingly well and, from 1964 until 1990, played a vital role in protecting our nation's security. In any crisis, anywhere in the world and at any time, the crews and maintainers of the Blackbird supported missions directed by the highest levels of our nation's government. To this end, SR-71's were based at Beale Air Force Base, California and at two forward operating locations in Okinawa and the United Kingdom.


Made of Titanium, the SR-71 fuselage heats to 500 degrees during flight and elongates 6 inches. The SR-71 was capable of speeds of over three times the speed of sound and altitudes of over 85,000 feet, but these are just the published figures. The actual performance was greater in both categories. There were 32 SR-71's built and in 26 years of service, no aircraft was ever lost to hostile fire, despite the fact that they were shot at over 1,000 times.


Due to U. S. Government budgetary cutbacks in military spending, the end to most Communist threats in Eastern Europe, and advancements in satellite reconnaissance, the SR-71 was retired in 1990. At this time, three aircraft were delivered to NASA for high altitude experiments. The most notable was one SR-71 that was delivered to the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. that recorded the flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. in 68 minutes.




Primary Function: Strategic Reconnaissance

Rated Speed: mach 3.2 (2368 mi/hr, 3456 ft/sec, 35 mi/min)

Max Speed: mach 3.5 (2577 mi/hr, 3780 ft/sec, 42 mi/min)

Cruising Altitude: 80,000 ft 85,000 (15-16 miles)

Material: Titanium alloy (93%)

Wing Span: 55.617 feet

Length: 107.416 feet

Height: 18.53 feet

Engine Model: two Pratt & Whitney J-58 axial flow turbo RAM jet engine with afterburners (JT11D-20A)

Engine Thrust: 32,500 lb (34,000 lb)

Afterburners: Continuous

Weight Unfueled: 50,000 lbs  (65,000)

Weight Fueled: 80,000 to 140,000 lbs  (170,000)

Weight Takeoff Max: 140,000 lbs

Weight Landing: 68,000

Rate of Climb: 10,000 feet per minute

G Limits: unknown

Wing Area: 1800 ft

Skin Temperature: 500+ F (fuselage)

Fuel: JP-7, liquid nitrogen, liquid oxygen

Fuel Capacity: 12,200 gallons (84,000 lbs)

Refueling Distance: 3400 miles

Fuel Consumption: 8000 Gallons per hour.

Spare Tire: None

Crew: 2, Pilot and Reconnaissance Officer

Operating Temperature: -70 F

Operating Pressure: 0.4 psia

RAM Jet Temperature: 750 F

Defense Tactics: Varies on speed and altitude

Fixed Armament: None

ECM: Yes

Manufacturer: Lockheed Skunk works

Designer: Clarence 'Kelly' Johnson, vice president of the Lockheed's Advanced Development Company.

Unit Costs: unknown

Surveillance: 100,000 square miles per hour


Recon Capability: high resolution cameras, side-looking radar, and IR photography equipment. Recon bays are configured to accommodate various combinations of recon packages.  Information is transmitted to ground instantly.  Uses Lockheed Martin ASARS-1 Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar. The Common Data Link (CDL), operating at 274 Mbs, can be used to download the data gathered by the ASARS to a ground station. The CDL operates over a 300 nautical mile line of sight. If the aircraft is out of range of a ground station, ASARS data can be stored on the DCR recorder installed in the aircraft. The stored data can be processed when the aircraft has landed or can be transmitted via the downlink when the aircraft is next in range of a ground station.



Interesting Facts:

       The SR-71 can photograph a license plate from 80,000 feet

       SR-71 retired in 1990 due to operational and maintenance costs as well as the increase use of new spy satellites.

       The SR-71 grows by 2 to 6 inches in flight.

       Test Site: Groom Lake, a.k.a. Area-51 (Nevada dessert)

       RAM jets kick in after mach 2.6, contributes 60% increase speed

       Speed of Sound = 740 miles/hour, 1085 ft/sec, 330 meters/sec, on a good day.

       Muzzle velocity = 3000 ft/sec = SuperMan, SR-71 = 3400+ ft/sec

       Pressure Suit: fire resistant, control temperature, 14.7 psi at sea level, 0.5 psi at 80,000 ft

       Uses radar absorbing materials

       Skin Is coated with special black paint to dissipate heat.

       Preceding Models: A-12 (CIA), M21, YF-12

       Preceding Reconaiance Program: U2 (1954), 550 mph, 85000 ft

       Numbers built: SR-71A=29, SR-71B=2, SR-71C=1

       Russian Mig-25 speed: mach 2.8

       Design Challenges: fuel, oil, mining titanium, hydraulics, cooling systems, tires, engines, reduced radar signature (cross section).

       Chlorinated tap water causes titanium to become brittle.  Distilled water had to be used during the manufacturing.

       First plane with continuous afterburners.

       The world's largest source for titanium is in Russia.  The CIA used one of its front companies to purchase the needed titanium for the project, which the Russians never caught on to.

       Titanium is twice as strong as stainless steel and half the weight.

       No other plane was built using titanium.

       The developed JP-7 fuel is a high flash point fuel that burns at about 1,200 F.  JP-7 fuel does not ignite with a match.

       The SR-71 has no fuel tanks, but rather uses bladders inside the fuselage.

       Tires had to be developed to withstand 1500F at cruising speed.

       Navigation system utilized a special lens built into the plane that would look up in to the sky and track it's position by the stars in the sky.

       The SR-71 was originally named RS-71, but President Lyndon B. Johnson screwed up at a press conference in 1968 and called it the SR-71.

       The SR-71 was first conceptualized early in 1956 and designated as A-12 and YF-12 (high speed fighter interceptor). 

       A-12 first test flight April 1962.  SR-71 in 1964 in Nevada.

       The first SR-71s went into service in 1968 at Kadena, AFB in Okinawa, Japan.

       The SR-71 fleet was decommissioned in 1990.  In 1995, 3 planes were re-commissioned for 1 year.  3 plains are on loan to NASA for sonic boom research.

       The SR-71 uses dual Buick V-8 racing engines that are required to spool up the J-58 engines to 3200 RPM for starting.

       The SR-71 was originally designed for a 10 year lifecycle but ended up in service for 26 years.

       The development name was called Oxcart and took only 22 months to develop, Feb 1963 thru Dec 1964.

       The same team that built the U-2 also built the SR-71.

       Contract was awarded to Lockheed on December 28, 1962 for the initial six SR-71 aircrafts.

       The first operational flight of the SR-71 was flown on March 21, 1968.

       The pressure suit costs $30,000, takes 20 minutes to suit up. 

       The crew is required to breath pure oxygen for 30 minutes to prevent decompression sickness the bends.  Like astronauts (and divers), this procedure is necessary to remove nitrogen dissolved in body fluids and thereby to prevent its release as gas bubbles when pressure is reduced.

       The SR-71 is lightly fueled on takeoff, then fully refueled at altitude (25,000 feet).

       The fuel is also used as a coolant.

       Refueling is performed at 25,000 feet.

       Upon landing, the rate of decent is 500 feet per minute to allow cooling.  The crew has to wait until the skin is cooled and safe to exit.

       Operation cost is $200,000 per mission, or $39,000 - $50,000 per hour.  $260 million annually in 1980

       During its long career of conducting over-flights of sensitive areas of the globe, no Blackbirds were ever shot down or intercepted.  In fact, the Blackbird was shot at over 1000 times without being hit once.

       The Aurora jet (if true) reaches speeds over mach 6 (4,400 mph) at 120,000 feet.  It can reach Baghdad in 3 hours and travel 25,000 miles around the Earths equator in 6 hours. Photographs of the contrail (smoke rings) clearly define the power source of Aurora to be a Pulse Detonation Wave Engine (PDWE) or pulse jet similar to that used on the German V-1 "Buzz Bomb" during the Second World War.

       The A-12 and YF-12 were built with armament, the SR-71 was recon only.


Aviation Speed History:

Mach 1 speed took 45 years to achieve

Mach 2 speed took 10 years to achieve

Mach 3 speed took 7 years to achieve



Blackbird losses broken down by type:

























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