Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird


Back to the Virtual Aircraft Museum
  STRATEGIC RECON PLANEVirtual Aircraft Museum / USA / Lockheed  

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

The USAF's SR-71A two-seat strategic-reconnaissance aircraft originates from the remarkable Lockheed A-11, detail design of which began in 1959. Almost certainly intended to follow into service the Lockheed U-2, the A-11 derived from the design team led by C. L. 'Kelly' Johnson. Four A-11 were ordered, the first being flown on 26 April 1962.

Three were later modified into YF-12A interceptors, entering service for evaluation in 1964. They were capable of speeds in excess of Mach 3 and of sustained supersonic flight at heights of up to 24,385m. Consequently construction was largely of titanium to maintain structural integrity, for as a result of kinetic heating, localised skin temperatures of up to about 427░C could be reached. To retard as much as possible the effects of such heating, these aircraft were finished in a high-heat-emissive black paint, leading to the name Blackbird.

The fourth A-11 (ordered on the original contract) was subsequently redesignated YF-12C. From it was developed the SR-71A reconnaissance aircraft, the first of which flew on 22 December 1964. The readily recognisable configuration of this aircraft results from extensive wind-tunnel testing to evolve a minimum-drag fuselage providing maximum speed while keeping kinetic heating to the minimum; and to maintain the best possible handling characteristics at supersonic, take-off (about 370km/h) and landing (about 278km/h) speeds.

Power plant comprises two 144.6kN Pratt & Whitney turbojets. The 36,287kg of special fuel for these engines - which is contained within upper-fuselage and inner-wing tanks - acts as a heat sink for the entire aircraft, fuel temperature being raised to 320░C before being injected into the engines. Highly complex air intakes with computer-controlled fail-safe systems are essential to ensure that smooth airflow to the engines is maintained over the enormous forward speed range of 0-3,200km/h, at the upper limit of which the engines are virtually operating as turbo-ramjets. SR-71A began to enter USAF service in January 1966 and it is believed that as many as 31 may have been built. They have the capability to survey an area of 155,400km2 within an hour and in 1976 established a closed-circuit speed record of 3,367.221km/h; a world absolute speed record of 3,529.56km/h; and a sustained-altitude record of 25,929.031m.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird on YOUTUBE

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

 ENGINE2 x P+W J-58-JT-11(N), 151.1kN
  Take-off weight77110 kg169999 lb
  Empty weight36290 kg80006 lb
  Wingspan17.0 m56 ft 9 in
  Length32.7 m107 ft 3 in
  Height5.6 m18 ft 4 in
  Wing area167.2 m21799.72 sq ft
  Max. speed3380 km/h2100 mph
  Cruise speed2125 km/h1320 mph
  Ceiling24500 m80400 ft
  Range w/max.fuel6000 km3728 miles
  Range w/max payload4800 km2983 miles

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

Comments1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120
rodger i. hanks, e-mail, 23.08.2022 06:19

i was working graveyard @ Lockheed Burbank in the mid 60's. i was a "template maker" making "chem-mill" templates for milling the air frames.. i had a toolmaker's badge, so could go just about anywhere in the plant with ease..one night i wandered off just looking around... large parts of the plant were dark on graveyard shift.. i found myself in a very large "hanger" type building with a huge canvas curtain that came down to the floor all the way from the ceiling..i felt along the canvas til i felt an opening..then felt my way down the canvas til i found a way thru the canvas..went thru til i came out the other side...it was pitch black and it took a few moments til my eyes adjusted..i looked up and i was standing right beneath the nose of an SR-71..it was the most amazing thing i had ever seen.. i jumped back thru the curtain and almost ran back to my work area..i had seen an aircraft that was at the time almost top secret to all but those that worked on it..i was so afraid i would be found out...i never told anybody for a long time..what an airplane!


stewart, e-mail, 31.03.2023 rodger i. hanks

wow, that sounds really awesome, I wish I could have been you then.


Patrick J Olsen, e-mail, 13.05.2020 07:29

I was enlisted US Air Force 1993-1997 and I can say without a shadow of a doubt, even with Secret Security Clearance that I never saw an SR-71 nor the A-12. But I did stay at a holiday Inn Express last night! The SR-71 was created by some of the most intelligent engineers the world had to offer, without it who knows what today may be. To everyone involved- Thank you-God Speed


H.Jonsson, e-mail, 31.01.2018 23:16

Nothing like the Blackbird ever flew nor ever will probably.

Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich did that at Lockheed.

And the Soviets supplied all the Titanium metal.


Anthony W Raduazo, e-mail, 19.10.2017 20:22

I must say,,Having been a member of the 9th Recon-SR-71 Support Squadron at Beale and Edwards AFB's,, in the 1980's,,Some of these comments made here are Completely Faults and must be taken as such..Others are RIGHT ON! Be careful as to what you believe when reading these comments.. Sincerely Mr Anthony W Raduazo of the USAF Engineering Services Center..1961 through 2001...Now Retired.


Anthony W Raduazo, e-mail, 19.10.2017 20:13

I was a member of the 9th Recon, SR-71-Squadrons,in the Department of Civil Engineering Support and Research, At Beale and Edwards AFB's. During the 1980's.. Mr Anthony W Raduazo


Timothy Potter, e-mail, 26.09.2017 10:41

This rocket plane was actually a stolen copy from the glorious CCCP and I had the honour of being the chief test pilot when it first flew out of Engels AFB in 1956. Initially, the aircraft was a little tricky to fly because the fly-by-wire batteries kept running out but once I'd replaced them I was able to take te aircraft higher and higher and I was even able to land it on the moon.


Herb Greathouse, e-mail, 28.10.2016 10:29

Oct. 2016: Herb Greathouse, I was one of the fortunate ones assigned to the 9th FMS Instrument Shop in October, 1966. Because instruments are connected to most every thing on the aircraft the shop chief at the time, MSgt Bruce Bryant, had his newly assigned people attend every thing the FTD school had to offer. Egress, Environmental Systems, Fuel System, Engine, Hydraulics', APG, I mean everything. Flight Controls, Landing Gear. In the beginning there was no such words as "not my job" for an instrument guy, we did it all. You didn't go out and say "oh, the panel's not down" and go back to the shop. You broke out the speed wrench and went to work. . . . You knew what screw bags were for and most of all you new how to cook screws before reinstalling panels. . . . We had a saying back then, "the difficult we do today, the impossible takes a little longer". . . . I don't think there will ever be another one. The Blackbird bunch were one of a kind. We broke records decades ago that stand today.
And , Oh yes, I would do it all over again given the chance. . . .


Gene, e-mail, 14.06.2016 08:04

GENE With Question about how the Black Bird could fly through US airspace without detection.

When a Black Bird takes off the aircraft would be in the US National Airspace. Did they talk to anyone while in the NAS? Did they have an active transponder squawk? If yes, what happened if mode C indicated 70,000 and airspeed indicated 1,500 or greater. This type of information displayed on a ARTCC display would be a give away that there was something flying that was not the normal sub-sonic bird. Anyone know for sure??

Thanks Gene


Jim Bard, e-mail, 16.05.2016 17:12

I was at Beale (March 65-Septenber 69) before we received the first bird. Got to Bootstrap and OTS. It was an honor to be selected for the greatest organization in the AF at the time.


Jimmy Reb, e-mail, 14.12.2015 07:40

I was recently told on social media by a former Lockheed SR-71 engineer that the SR-71 could reach low earth orbit. I questioned how an air breathing jet engine only capable of reaching about 2,500 mph could reach low earth orbit at 17,000 plus mph. Then, how could "retro rockets" of an air breather get it back out of orbit to Earth (like after burners with oxygen tanks for the ignition & burn?). The ONLY thing he could tell me was the use of the sling shot gravity assist done with so many satellites to usually reach far planets or position satellites into a proper orbit. I think I recall the solar observatory satellite did multiple gravity assists with Earth and perhaps other bodies like Venus and Mercury to get where the program wanted the satellite to be in an orbit around the sun. He could tell me no more than what I've told you due to being still classified.


Patrick J Olsen, e-mail, 13.05.2020 Jimmy Reb

Lol, yeah right classified!


E. Zutell, e-mail, 22.03.2015 03:53

As a 2nd Louie in 1965 at a radar site near Eglin AFB, Florida, I was on graveyard shift when a YF-12 called in from the runway and requested flight following. He took off, squawked IDENT, I acknowledged he said thanks and good night. After just two sweeps, he was gone from my scope that had a 200 mile radius.


Johnny Gratton, e-mail, 19.03.2015 16:28

I was in the Photo Shop @ Beale three different times, in 1971 Nov when I returned from Vietnam I was @ Beale and TDY to Det1 in Okinawa. After a year @ Beale I went to England for two years then back to Beale from 1974 to 1978, next to Rein Main Germany for 3 years, back to Beale from 1981 to 1988 when I retired. I worked on all of the Cameras on the aircraft but my favorite was the OBC (nose camera). I met a bunch of great people while @ Beale and Det1 (nine TDY's to Det1. Love the SR-71 and U-2.


RAYMOND M SIMPSON, e-mail, 18.03.2015 17:26

Maybe a ramjet bullet painted inside with Aluminium di-oxide might pass the SR-71 and travel into space with cold fusion in the combustion camber?? Just an improvement without any moving parts !


TONY BEVACQUA, e-mail, 17.03.2015 20:56

The SR-71 information is declassified, period. Also, NONE of them are flyable. They are all in exhibits /museums, etc. We put on symposiums several times a year where the audience can ask anything they want to know, to a panel made up of pilot /s, RSO /s, maintenance, PSD, tech-reps,etc. All questions are welcome, and usually, all are answered completely. Try to make one when and if there is one in your area of travel.


TORBJÍRN KAMPE, e-mail, 15.03.2015 00:21

This was the enemy big nightmare.
It flew fast and loud.
But was a nightmare to land.
To swing the SR-71, so was not allowed to lift the nose above the horizon, then stalade one wing.
Looking aerodynamics sr-71st one does not understand how his head almost could fly.
I have simmulatr flown SR-71st It's not as fun to fly. Given what it could do. It's fun to look at but flying is a completely different thing.


Roy Stanley, e-mail, 08.12.2014 00:01

I was assigned to the 67th Recon Tech Sq at Yokota, Japan and worked on both A-12 and SR-71 missions. We were the troops who brought meaning to each flight by processing the film and performing aerial photo interpretation to satisfy National Requirements. Without us, the planes were just magnificent ways to poke holes in the sky.


Daniel Kaplan, e-mail, 01.12.2014 09:32

It was a great thrill when I was an army brat living on Ft. Buckner in Okinawa to see SR-71s flying directly over our house at low altitude in the early-70s. Even as a child I knew I was witnessing something very special in flight. For such a secret aircraft, it seemed like everyone knew about it! It was cool living on the island where the Blackbird and its crewmembers picked up the unofficial moniker "Habu."


Ed Chellino, e-mail, 09.02.2014 22:40

I was assigned to the 9th SRW in May of 1970 as one of three Electronic Warfare Officers who worked for the Deputy Commander for Operations. We trained the RSO's in the operation of the various Electronic Countermeasures systems carried on the Blackbird and insured the proper systems were loaded for each type of mission and insured systems were properly maintained by our Tech Reps. One of us was always at the OL. I think the most impressive thing about the Blackbird was the engine start. When those twin Buick Wildcats V-8's hit 6000 RPM and the TEB was injected it really made your day.


Dave Burns, e-mail, 06.01.2014 06:16

I was a Crew Chief on the SR71 at Beale & Kadena 74-82. I crewed the B-model at Beale and A-models at Det1. Habu's Forever


Dave Lupton, e-mail, 02.12.2013 00:28

I was in the 9th SRW at Beale AFB from Aug 81 until Jan 93 as an Avionics Communication technician /instructor. During those years I had some of the greatest experiences of my AF career. The absolute best is when I was riding the launch truck in the dark hours of the morning and set at the end of the runway just 50 yards from the SR-71 Blackbird while they would run up one J-58 to afterburner with it's distinctive brilliant blue rings extending out the tail feathers in a cone shape to a point and the percussion of the sound shaking you so much you'd think your body and skeleton are about to separate, just then they run it down and then run up the other Huge J-58. After that it just sits there building anticipation to everyone not in radio contact with the tower, when all of a sudden they both sight up and it starts to roll. The next thing you see are the twin blue cones bending against the runway as it noses heavenward and within a few seconds it's gone. I loved working the SR-71 and hated when we had to deliver them to various Air War Museums around the country in 91.


1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120

Do you have any comments?

Name    E-mail


All the World's Rotorcraft

All rhe World's Rotorcraft AVIATION TOP 100 - www.avitop.com Avitop.com