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SR-71 Blackbird

History and Development of the SR-71 Blackbird and M-21 Blackbird

The Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" was an advanced, long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft that served in the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998.

The Lockheed A-12 was produced from 1962 to 1964, and was in operation from 1963 until 1968. The single-seat design, which first flew in April 1962, was the precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft.

Lockheed M-21 Blackbird, an SR-71 variant, at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WashingtonLockheed M-21 Blackbird, an SR-71 variant, at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington

Lockheed's other reconnaissance aircraft was the relatively slow U-2, designed for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It was vulnerable to Russian rockets, and lacked faster speeds for modern day reconnaissance aircraft. The CIA turned to Lockheed's Skunk Works, who developed the A-12, and would go on to build upon its design concepts for the SR-71.

The SR-71 was designed for Mach 3+ flight with a flight crew of two in tandem cockpits, with the pilot in the forward cockpit and the Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO) monitoring the surveillance systems and equipment from the behind cockpit.

Origin of the Name "Blackbird"

Finished aircraft were painted a dark blue, almost black, to increase the emission of internal heat and to act as camouflage against the night sky. The dark color led to the aircraft's call sign "Blackbird".

On the SR-71, titanium was used for 85% of the structure, with much of the rest polymer composite materials. The first operational aircraft designed around a stealthy shape and materials, the SR-71 had several features designed to reduce its radar signature.

First Flight and Service Date

The first flight of an SR-71 took place in December of 1964, at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. The first SR-71 entered regular service in January of 1966. The SR-71 was the world's fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft throughout its career.

SR-71 Speed Records

In July of 1976, SR-71 serial number 61-7962 broke the world record for its class: an "absolute altitude record" of 85,069 feet. SR-71, serial number 61-7958 set an absolute speed record of 1,905.81 knots (2,193.2 mph), approximately Mach 3.3.

M-21 Blackbird

The Lockheed M-21 Blackbird is a unique variant of the A-12, the earliest Blackbird type. Built for a CIA program code-named "Tagboard," the M-21 carried unpiloted Lockheed D-21 vehicles for intelligence gathering. These drones were intended for launch from the M-21 "mother ship" for flights over hostile territories. Design features of the M-21 include the second seat for the Launch Control Officer and the launch pylon on which the drone is mounted. The sole surviving M-21 was built in 1963, and today is on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Total SR-71 Production Numbers

A total of 32 of the SR-71 aircraft were built, 12 of which were lost in accidents. In addition, 13 A-12 aircraft were built, along with two M-21.

SR-71 Specifications

Crew: 2 (Pilot and Reconnaissance Systems Officer)
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)

Surviving Blackbird Aircraft

A total of twenty (20) SR-71 Blackbirds have been preserved in air museums across the United States, including those listed below with photos shown on this page:

Model
S/N
Museum or AFB
City
ST
SR-71A
61-7951
Pima Air & Space Museum Tucson
AZ
SR-71A
61-7958
Museum of Aviation Warner Robins
GA
SR-71A
61-7959
Air Force Armament Museum Eglin AFB
FL
SR-71A
61-7967
Barksdale Global Power Museum Bossier City
LA
SR-71A
61-7972
Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Dulles Airport
VA
SR-71C
61-7981
Hill Aerospace Museum Ogden
UT
M-21
60-6940
Museum of Flight Seattle
WA

SR-71 Photos Courtesy of the Author

SR-71A Blackbird, S/N 61-7967, on display at the Barksdale AFB Global Power Museum in Bossier City
SR-71 Blackbird, S/N 61-7967, on display at the Barksdale AFB Global Power Museum in Bossier City
Cockpit of SR-71A Blackbird, S/N 61-7967, on display at the Barksdale AFB Global Power Museum
Cockpit of SR-71A Blackbird, S/N 61-7967, on display at the Barksdale AFB Global Power Museum
Tail section of SR-71A Blackbird, S/N 61-7967, on display at the Barksdale AFB Global Power Museum
Tail section of SR-71A Blackbird, S/N 61-7967, on display at the Barksdale AFB Global Power Museum
Tail section of SR-71A Blackbird, S/N 61-7967, on display at the Barksdale AFB Global Power Museum
Tail section of SR-71A Blackbird, S/N 61-7967, on display at the Barksdale AFB Global Power Museum
Monument of the SR-71 Memorial Dedication, 8th Air Force Museum, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana
Monument of the SR-71 Memorial Dedication, 8th Air Force Museum, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana
SR-71A Blackbird S/N 61-7959 on display at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin AFB, Florida
SR-71A Blackbird S/N 61-7959 on display at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin AFB, Florida
SR-71A Blackbird S/N 61-7959 on display at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin AFB, Florida
SR-71A Blackbird S/N 61-7959 on display at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin AFB, Florida
SR-71A Blackbird S/N 61-7959 on display at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin AFB, Florida
SR-71A Blackbird S/N 61-7959 on display at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin AFB, Florida
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird S/N 61-7972 at the Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles Airport, Washington, D.C.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird at the Udvar-Hazy Center, Dulles Airport, Washington, D.C.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird S/N 61-7951 at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona
Lockheed SR-71C S/N 61-7981 Blackbird at the Hill Aerospace Museum in Ogden, Utah
Lockheed SR-71C S/N 61-7981 Blackbird at the Hill Aerospace Museum in Ogden, Utah
Lockheed SR-71C S/N 61-7981 Blackbird at the Hill Aerospace Museum in Ogden, Utah
Lockheed SR-71C S/N 61-7981 Blackbird at the Hill Aerospace Museum in Ogden, Utah
Lockheed M-21 Blackbird S/N 60-6940 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington
Lockheed M-21 Blackbird S/N 60-6940 at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird S/N 61-7958 at the Museum of Aviation, Robins AFB, Georgia
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird S/N 61-7958 at the Museum of Aviation, Robins AFB, Georgia

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