The SR-71 Blackbird- a bit of interesting information

Please read the comment from Ian Kennedy below for some extra information and corrections.

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was a US spy plane which first flew in 1964. It was used to spy mostly on Russia for many years. It was first built to replace the Lockheed U-2, another older spy plane. The U2 was very good (it flew high and fast) but when one was shot down by a Russian interceptor, it was thought that a new, better spy plane was needed. The SR-71 Blackbird was the perfect answer as, in those days, when Stealth technology did not exist, the way to make spy planes hard to detect and hard to shoot down was speed and height and the SR-71 flew very fast and very high (even faster and even higher than the U-2). Though no longer in service, the SR-71 has set many speed and height records and remains the fastest (with speeds of over Mach 3.2) and highest (with heights of about 85,000 feet) flying plane ever built. Now speed and height is not needed quite so much for spy planes, thanks to Stealth technology, making a plane invisible to radar.

The SR-71 Blackbird was developed from the A-12 Blackbird which looks so similar it is almost impossible to tell them apart. Originally it was going to be designated as the RS-71 for Reconnaisance Strike. But the USAF chief of staff (Curtis LeMay) wanted to call it the SR-71 for Strategic Reconnaisance, which he preferred. So, he modified President Johnson’s speech about the aircraft to say SR-71 instead of RS-71, which created the belief that Johnson had made a mistake. It was easy to believe that Johnson had made a mistake, as he had done it before, calling the A-12 the A-11.

Another close cousin of the SR-71 Blackbird is the YF-12 Blackbird. This, also looking extremely similar (except the end of the nose) was a high speed interceptor version of the SR-71. It was never used.

An SR-71 Blackbird can be seen at Duxford Aviation Museum.

a-12.jpgsr-71.jpgyf-12.jpg

Left: A-12 Blackbird from http://greyfalcon.us/

Middle: SR-71 Blackbird from http://www.globalaircraft.org

Right: YF-12 Blackbird from http://www.wvi.com

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2 Responses

  1. Actually there are a few errors on the SR-71 page. The YF-12 was the PROTOTYPE airframe (prefix Y=prototype … prefix X=experimental) and also the airframe that set all the ORIGINAL records. It was also (along with the A-12) a single seat aircraft, with 3 small VENTRAL fins (1 under each nacelle, and 1 extendable under the fuselage) to help offset the loss of stability caused by cutting back the chines at the nose.

    As well as that, there were only THREE YF-12 and 13 A-12’s ever created, and the A-12’s were only in service for 5 years before being decommissioned in 1967. During that time 5 aircraft were lost due to mishaps (the remaining 8 aircraft were then mothballed at Burbank for 20 years before being sold to various museums.)

    The SR-71 variant (the most well known) was 5 feet longer than the A-12 or YF-12, as it was designed for 2 crew members, and there were 32 of them created before the remainder of the order was canceled. 12 of these were lost and the remaining 20 are on display at various museums.

    As for the records, SR-71 still holds the sustained speed record, but the HEIGHT record is held by a (specially fitted) MIG-25 (piloted by Alexander Fedotov), which reached 123,524 feet (nearly twice it’s operational altitude) on a one-off flight. (because the engines and airframe were so damaged, the plane was scrapped after landing)

    Don’t panic though, as you’re in esteemed company. They made the same mistake in the first Iron Man movie.

    • Thank you for the corrections and extra information! You clearly know a lot on the subject. May I ask how you gained this knowledge?

      The MiG-25 height record particularly interested me, I had never heard of this before. Would I be right in saying that the SR-71 holds the record for sustained altitude in horizontal flight and that the MiG-25 holds the record for absolute altitude?

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