The SR-71 is in a museum and is still the fastest plane in history.

The SR-71 is in a museum and is still the fastest plane in history

During the more than 25 years of service of the SR-71 “Blackbird,” from its first flight in 1964 until its retirement in 1999, no adversary shot down a single aircraft. Aviation fans even believe that the plane evaded more than 4,000 missiles. 

It was the fastest plane to take to the skies and held the record for the highest level of flight altitude. It is also the fastest non-rocket-powered aircraft. Due to its unreal speed, enemy missiles and airframes could never reach it.

The SR-71 is in a museum and is still the fastest plane in history.
SR-71 Blackbird

SR-71 – Brief description of the development of the Blackbird

Until the late 1950s, Lockheed Martin’s U-2 was the primary reconnaissance aircraft for the Central Intelligence Agency ( CIA ). The agency requested an improved spy plane, which gave rise to the Archangel project. Of the 11 possible candidates, the “A-10” became the favorite. Within two years, a variant with a 90% reduction in the radar cross section was manufactured, named “A-12”. 

The A-12 flew from 1963 to 1968 and was the predecessor to the US Air Force YF-12 prototype two-seat interceptor, the M-21 launcher for the D-21 drone, and the infamous SR-71 Blackbird.

The Blackbird sports a conspicuous titanium frame.

The Blackbird was designed to fly at over 2,000 miles per hour in order to avoid anti-aircraft fire and remain as undetectable as possible to radar

For this reason, friction with the atmosphere would heat the fuselage to a point where it could melt a traditionally designed fuselage. To prevent the plane from melting, titanium was used. This ceramic-based metal is capable of withstanding such high temperatures.

Additionally, the airframes were painted black to absorb and emit some of the heat generated from flying so fast, giving the SR-71 its nickname, “Blackbird.” As detailed in a CNN report, the use of titanium posed several problems. At that time, the Soviet Union was the world’s largest supplier of this metal, which obviously presented an obstacle for the plane’s engineers.

Lockheed Martin also points out that metal was an especially delicate material for airplane building. “The brittle alloy would break if mishandled, leading to great frustration on the Skunk Works assembly line and new training classes for Lockheed machinists. It soon became known that conventional cadmium-plated steel tools would break titanium on contact, so new titanium tools were designed and manufactured.”

The Blackbird was powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 bleed-bypass turbojets, capable of producing a static thrust of 32,500 lbf. Blackbird’s speed was around Mach 3.2. In order to reduce its radar cross-section, the Blackbird’s shape was adapted to incorporate large wedges of radar attenuation material.

Artist’s rendering of the SR-71.

The SR-71 was an excellent spy plane.

In 1968, the Blackbird flew its first operational mission over Vietnam. Throughout its 25 years of service, the SR-71 provided critical intelligence during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel’s 1982 war with Lebanon, US airstrikes on Libya, and the 1987 Iranian Silkworm missile batteries.

Today, the remaining SR-71s are scattered around the country in museums. The famed spy plane will maintain its legendary status until a new airframe can break the Blackbird’s speed and altitude records.