Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
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Name: SR-71 ''Blackbird''
Role: Strategic reconnaissance aircraft
Manufacturer: Lockheed Skunk Works
Designer: Clarence ''Kelly'' Johnson
First flight: 22 December 1964
Primary users: United States Air Force, NASA
Number built: 32
Developed from: Lockheed A-12
Data from SR-71.org, Pace
Payload: 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) of sensors
Length: 107 ft 5 in (32.74 m)
Wingspan: 55 ft 7 in (16.94 m)
Height: 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m)
Wing area: 1,800 ft2 (170 m2)
Empty weight: 67,500 lb (30,600 kg)
Loaded weight: 152,000 lb (69,000 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 172,000 lb (78,000 kg)
Powerplant: 2 - Pratt & Whitney J58 - 1 continuous bleed afterburning turbojets, 34,000 lbf (151 kN) each
Wheel track: 16 ft 8 in (5.08 m)
Wheelbase: 37 ft 10 in (11.53 m)
Aspect ratio: 1.7
Maximum speed: Mach 3.3 (2,200+ mph, 3,530+ km/h, 1,900+ knots) at 80,000 ft (24,000 m)
Range: 2,900 nmi (5,400 km)
Ferry range: 3,200 nmi (5,925 km)
Service ceiling: 85,000 ft (25,900 m)
Rate of climb: 11,810 ft/min (60 m/s)
Wing loading: 84 lb/ft (410 kg/m)
The Lockheed SR-71 ''Blackbird'' was an advanced, long range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft. It was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by the Lockheed Skunk Works. Clarence ''Kelly'' Johnson was responsible for many of the design's innovative concepts. During reconnaissance missions the SR-71 operated at high speeds and high altitudes to allow it to outrace threats. If a surface to air missile launch was detected, the standard evasive action was simply to accelerate and outrun the missile.
The SR-71 served with the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998. Although 12 of the 32 aircraft built were destroyed in accidents, none were lost to enemy action. The SR-71 was unofficially named the Blackbird, and called the Habu by its crews, referring to an Okinawan species of pit viper. Since 1976, it has held the world record for the fastest air breathing manned aircraft, a record previously held by the YF-12.
Lockheed's previous reconnaissance aircraft was the U-2, which was designed for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In 1960, while overflying the U.S.S.R., Francis Gary Powers' U-2 was shot down by Soviet surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). This highlighted the U-2's vulnerability due to its relatively slow speed; this paved the way for the Lockheed A-12, also designed for the CIA by Clarence Johnson at Lockheed's Skunk Works. The A-12 was the precursor of the SR-71. The A-12's first flight took place at Groom Lake (Area 51), Nevada, on 25 April 1962. It was equipped with the less powerful Pratt & Whitney J75 engines due to protracted development of the intended Pratt & Whitney J58. The J58s were retrofitted as they became available, and became the standard power plant for all subsequent aircraft in the series (A-12, YF-12, M-21) as well as the follow on SR-71 aircraft. Thirteen A-12s were built. Two A-12 variants were also developed, including three YF-12A interceptor prototypes, and two M - 21 drone carrier variants. The cancellation of A-12 program was announced on 28 December 1966, due to budget concerns, and because of the forthcoming SR-71. The A-12 flew missions over Vietnam and North Korea before its retirement in 1968.
The SR-71 designator is a continuation of the pre-1962 bomber series, which ended with the XB-70 Valkyrie. During the later period of its testing, the B-70 was proposed for a reconnaissance/strike role, with an RS-70 designation. When it was clear that the A-12 performance potential was much greater, the Air Force ordered a variant of the A-12 in December 1962. Originally named R-12 by Lockheed, the Air Force version was longer and heavier than the A-12, with a longer fuselage to hold more fuel, two seats in the cockpit, and reshaped chines. Reconnaissance equipment included signals intelligence sensors, a side looking radar and a photo camera. The CIA's A-12 remained a better photo reconnaissance platform than the Air Force's R-12, however, especially since the A-12 flew higher and faster, and with only one pilot it had room to carry a superior camera and more instruments.
During the 1964 campaign, Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater repeatedly criticized President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration for falling behind the Soviet Union in developing new weapons. Johnson decided to counter this criticism by revealing the existence of the YF-12A Air Force interceptor (which also served as cover for the still secret A-12) and, on 25 July 1964, the Air Force reconnaissance model. Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay preferred the SR (Strategic Reconnaissance) designation and wanted the RS-71 to be named SR-71. Before the July speech, LeMay lobbied to modify Johnson's speech to read SR-71 instead of RS-71. The media transcript given to the press at the time still had the earlier RS-71 designation in places, creating the story that the president had misread the aircraft's designation. This public disclosure of the program and its renaming came as a shock to everyone at the Skunk Works and to Air Force personnel involved in the program. All of the printed maintenance manuals, flight crew handbooks, training slides and materials were labeled ''R-12'' and 18 June 1965 Certificates of Completion issued by the Skunk Works to the first Air Force Flight Crews and their Wing Commander were labeled ''R-12 Flight Crew Systems Indoctrination, Course VIII''. The name change was taken as an order from the Commander in Chief, and immediate reprinting began of materials, including 29,000 blueprints, with the new name.
Important dates pulled from many sources.
24 December 1957: First J58 engine run.
1 May 1960: Francis Gary Powers is shot down in a Lockheed U-2 over the Soviet Union.
13 June 1962: SR-71 mock-up reviewed by Air Force.
30 July 1962: J58 completes pre-flight testing.
28 December 1962: Lockheed signs contract to build six SR-71 aircraft.
25 July 1964: President Johnson makes public announcement of SR-71.
29 October 1964: SR-71 prototype (#61-7950) delivered to Palmdale.
7 December 1964: Beale AFB, CA announced as base for SR-71.
22 December 1964: First flight of the SR-71 with Lockheed test pilot Bob Gilliland at AF Plant #42.
21 July 1967: Jim Watkins and Dave Dempster fly first international sortie in SR-71A #61-7972 when the Astro-Inertial Navigation System (ANS) fails on a training mission and they accidentally fly into Mexican airspace.
3 November 1967: A-12 and SR-71 conduct a reconnaissance fly-off. Results were questionable.
5 February 1968: Lockheed ordered to destroy A-12, YF-12, and SR-71 tooling.
8 March 1968: First SR-71A (#61-7978) arrives at Kadena AB to replace A-12s.
21 March 1968: First SR-71 (#61-7976) operational mission flown from Kadena AB over Vietnam.
29 May 1968: CMSgt Bill Gornik begins the tie-cutting tradition of Habu crews neck-ties.
3 December 1975: First flight of SR-71A #61-7959 in "Big Tail" configuration.
20 April 1976: TDY operations started at RAF Mildenhall in SR-71A #17972.
27 - 28 July 1976 : SR-71A sets speed and altitude records (Altitude in Horizontal Flight: 85,068.997 ft (25,929.030 m) and Speed Over a Straight Course: 2,193.167 mph).
August 1980: Honeywell starts conversion of AFICS to DAFICS.
15 January 1982: SR-71B #61-7956 flies its 1,000th sortie.
21 April 1989: #974 was lost due to an engine explosion after taking off from Kadena AB. This was the last Blackbird to be lost, and was the first SR-71 accident in 17 years.
22 November 1989: Air Force SR-71 program officially terminated.
21 January 1990: Last SR-71 (#61-7962) left Kadena AB.
26 January 1990: SR-71 is decommissioned at Beale AFB, CA.
6 March 1990: Last SR-71 flight under SENIOR CROWN program, setting four speed records enroute to Smithsonian Institution.
25 July 1991: SR-71B #61-7956/NASA #831 officially delivered to NASA Dryden.
October 1991: Marta Bohn-Meyer becomes first female SR-71 crew member.
28 September 1994: Congress votes to allocate $100 million for reactivation of three SR-71s.
26 April 1995: First reactivated SR-71A (#61-7971) makes its first flight after restoration by Lockheed.
28 June 1995: First reactivated SR-71 returns to Air Force as Detachment 2.
28 August 1995: Second reactivated SR-71A (#61-7967) makes first flight after restoration.
2 August 1997: A NASA SR-71 made multiple flybys at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show. It was then supposed to perform a sonic boom at 53,000 feet (16,000 m) after a midair refueling, but a fuel flow problem caused it to divert to Milwaukee. Two weeks later, the pilot's flight path brought him over Oshkosh again, and there was, in fact, a sonic boom.
19 October 1997: The last flight of SR-71B #61-7956 at Edwards AFB Open House.
9 October 1999: The last flight of the SR-71 (#61-7980/NASA 844).
September 2002: Final resting places of #956, #971, and #980 are made known.
15 December 2003: SR-71 #972 goes on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
The SR-71 was the world's fastest and highest flying operational manned aircraft throughout its career. On 28 July 1976, SR-71 serial number 61-7962 broke the world record for its class: an ''absolute altitude record'' of 85,069 feet (25,929 m). Several aircraft exceeded this altitude in zoom climbs but not in sustained flight. That same day SR-71, serial number 61-7958 set an absolute speed record of 1,905.81 knots (2,193.2 mph; 3,529.6 km/h). The SR-71 also holds the ''Speed Over a Recognized Course'' record for flying from New York to London distance 3,508 miles (5,646 km), 1,435.587 miles per hour (2,310.353 km/h), and an elapsed time of 1 hour 54 minutes and 56.4 seconds, set on 1 September 1974 while flown by U.S. Air Force Pilot Major James V. Sullivan and Major Noel F. Widdifield, reconnaissance systems officer (RSO). This equates to an average velocity of about Mach 2.68, including deceleration for in flight refueling. Peak speeds during this flight were probably closer to the declassified top speed of Mach 3.2+. For comparison, the best commercial Concorde flight time was 2 hours 52 minutes, and the Boeing 747 averages 6 hours 15 minutes. On 26 April 1971, 61-7968 flown by Majors Thomas B. Estes and Dewain C. Vick flew over 15,000 miles (24,000 km) in 10 hrs. 30 min. This flight was awarded the 1971 Mackay Trophy for the ''most meritorious flight of the year'' and the 1972 Harmon Trophy for ''most outstanding international achievement in the art/science of aeronautics''.
Last SR-71 Senior Crown flight
When the SR-71 was retired in 1990, one Blackbird was flown from its birthplace at United States Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, to go on exhibit at what is now the Smithsonian Institution's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. On 6 March 1990, Lt. Col. Raymond ''Ed'' E. Yielding and Lt. Col. Joseph ''Jt'' T. Vida piloted SR-71 S/N 61-7972 on its final Senior Crown flight and set four new speed records in the process.
1. Los Angeles, CA to Washington, D.C., distance 2,299.7 miles (3,701.0 km), average speed 2,144.8 miles per hour (3,451.7 km/h), and an elapsed time of 64 minutes 20 seconds.
2. West Coast to East Coast, distance 2,404 miles (3,869 km), average speed 2,124.5 miles per hour (3,419.1 km/h), and an elapsed time of 67 minutes 54 seconds.
3. Kansas City, Missouri to Washington D.C., distance 942 miles (1,516 km), average speed 2,176 miles per hour (3,502 km/h), and an elapsed time of 25 minutes 59 seconds.
4. St. Louis, Missouri to Cincinnati, Ohio, distance 311.4 miles (501.1 km), average speed 2,189.9 miles per hour (3,524.3 km/h), and an elapsed time of 8 minutes 32 seconds.
These four speed records were accepted by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), the recognized body for aviation records in the United States. After the Los Angeles - Washington flight, Senator John Glenn addressed the United States Senate, chastening the Department of Defense for not using the SR-71 to its full potential:
“Mr. President, the termination of the SR-71 was a grave mistake and could place our nation at a serious disadvantage in the event of a future crisis. Yesterday's historic transcontinental flight was a sad memorial to our short sighted policy in strategic aerial reconnaissance.” - Senator John Glenn, 7 March 1990