Air Combat Command News

SR-71 Blackbird back in business

Released: Jan 24, 1997

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft now stands ready for deployment for the first time since its retirement seven years ago. Two SR-71 aircrews and planes were declared mission ready Jan. 1.

"My goal was to bring the SR-71 back quickly, within budget, and most importantly in a safe manner," said Brig. Gen. Robert Behler, 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander at Beale. "I'm proud to say we've accomplished this goal and we look forward to demonstrating a mobility capability later this year."

Mission ready means the Blackbird can fly operational sorties when the Joint Chiefs of Staff determine the aircraft's altitude, speed and sensor capabilities best meet a theater commander's mission need. The SR-71 is equipped with reconnaissance sensors, including the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar system which provides near-real time, all-weather, day or night imagery.

Congress directed the Air Force to bring the SR-71 out of retirement in 1994 because of the need for a highly survivable, manned, air-breathing reconnaissance platform to provide synoptic, multi-sensor, broad-area coverage.

The 32-year-old Blackbird remains the world's fastest, highest-flying production aircraft. It can fly at more than three times the speed of sound (Mach 3), or more than 2,000 m.p.h., and it routinely cruises at altitudes in excess of 80,000 feet (15 miles). The aircraft can also survey more than 100,000 square miles of the earth's surface in one hour.

Although assigned to the 9th RW at Beale, SR-71 aircraft currently operate from a detachment at Edwards AFB, Calif.