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Developed for the USAF as reconnaissance aircraft more than 30 years ago, SR-71s are still the world's fastest and highest-flying production aircraft. The aircraft can fly more than 2200 mph (Mach 3+ or more than three times the speed of sound) and at altitudes of over 85,000 feet.

For its reconnaissance mission, the aircraft was outfitted with an advanced synthetic aperture radar system [ASARS-I], an optical bar camera and a technical objective camera wet film system. All were once part of the aircraft's original equipment.

The SR-71 was designed by a team of Lockheed personnel led by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, at that time vice president of the company's Advanced Development Projects, known as the "Skunk Works." The first version, a CIA reconnaissance aircraft that first flew in April 1962 was called the A-11. Upon retrofitting with J-58 engine, it was designated the A-12. An interceptor version was developed in 1963 under the designation YF-12A. A USAF reconnaissance variant, called the SR-71, was first flown in 1964. The A-12 and SR-71 designs included leading and trailing edges made of high-temperature fiberglass-asbestos laminates which among other features contributed to their reduced radar signature. Its existence was publicly announced by President Lyndon Johnson on Feb. 29, 1964, when he announced that an SR-71 had flown at sustained speeds of over 2000 mph during tests at Edwards, Calif.

Development of the SR-71s from the A-11 design, as strategic reconnaissance aircraft, began in February 1963. First flight of an SR-71 was on Dec. 22, 1964. The YF-12s were experimental long-range interceptor versions of the same airframe and were first displayed publicly at Edwards on Sept. 30, 1964.

The Air Force needed technical assistance to get the latest reconnaissance version of the A-12 family, the SR-71A, fully operational. Eventually, the Air Force offered NASA the use of two YF-12A aircraft, 60-6935 and 606936. A joint NASA-USAF program was mapped out in June 1969. The NASA YF-12 research program was ambitious; the aircraft flew an average of once a week unless down for extended maintenance or modification. It made 90 flights between 16 July 1971 and 22 December 1978.

The SR-71 is a delta-wing aircraft designed and built by Lockheed. They are powered by two Pratt and Whitney J-58 axial-flow turbojets with afterburners, each producing 32,500 pounds of thrust. Studies have shown that less than 20 percent of the total thrust used to fly at Mach 3 is produced by the basic engine itself. The balance of the total thrust is produced by the unique design of the engine inlet and "moveable spike" system at the front of the engine nacelles, and by the ejector nozzles at the exhaust which burn air compressed in the engine bypass system.

The Blackbird weighs about 34 tons empty, and can carry another 20 tons of special JP-7 jet fuel (enough for about two hours of flight time) in its fuselage and wing tanks. In flight, the fuel is redistributed automatically to maintain the plane's center of gravity and load specifications. Because the Blackbird was designed to expand during flight, it has had a history of fuel tank leaks on the ground.

The airframes are built almost entirely of titanium and titanium alloys to withstand heat generated by sustained Mach 3 flight. The aircraft's largely titanium structure is coated with a special radar-absorbing black paint that also helps dissipate the intense frictional heat resulting from flight through the atmosphere at faster than three times the speed of sound. It also gives the plane its distinctive "Blackbird" nickname. Aerodynamic control surfaces consist of all-moving vertical tail surfaces above each engine nacelle, ailerons on the outer wings, and elevators on the trailing edges between the engine exhaust nozzles.

Although most news reports characterize the SR-71 aircraft as `radar evading', in point of fact, however, the SR-71 was one of the largest radar targets ever detected on the FAA's long-range radars. The FAA was able to track it at ranges of several hundred miles. The explanation offered was that the radars were detecting the exhaust plume.

The SR-71A accommodates two crew members in tandem cockpits. The pilot flies the aircraft from the forward cockpit, while a systems operator monitors sensors and experiments in the rear station. For high-speed, high altitude missions, both crew members must wear full-pressure suites that resemble those worn by the early astronauts.

Congress appropriated $100 million in the fiscal year 1995 defense budget to reactivate two A-model jets and one B-model pilot trainer aircraft. The Air Force program office for the reactivation of the Blackbirds is at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH. They are operated by Air Combat Command

The move to reactivate the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft was not unopposed. Critics looked at the SR-71 's limitations -- it can effectively operate only in good weather and cannot transmit the images it collects directly to those who need them -- and concluded that the aircraft should be retired.


Primary Function: Strategic Reconnaissance
Contractor:Lockheed-Martin Skunkworks
Power Plant: 2 Pratt and Whitney J-58 axial-flow turbojets with afterburners
each produces 32,500 pounds of thrust
Length: 107.4 feet (32.73 m)
Height: l8.5 feet (5.63 m)
Weight: 140,000 pounds (52,250 kg) Gross takeoff weight
80,000 pounds (30,000 kg) JP-7 fuel weight
Wingspan: 55.6 feet (16.94 m)
Speed: over Mach 3.2 / 2,000 mph (3,200 kph)
Range: over 2000 miles (3200 km) unrefueled
Altitude: over 85,000 feet (26,000 m)
Unit Cost:
           Built    Lost  
A-12          13       5
M-21           2       1
YF-12          3       2
SR-71A        29      11
SR-71B         2       1
SR-71C         1       0


Tail #MODELDisposition
60-6924A-12Blackbird Airpark, Palmdale, CA (AFFTC Museum)
60-6925A-12Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, NY
60-6926A-12crashed 24 May 1963, CIA pilot ejected safely
60-6927A-12 Museum of Science/Industry, LA (Stored at Skunk Works)
60-6928A-12crashed 05 January 1967, CIA pilot killed
60-6929A-12crashed 28 December 1967, pilot ejected safely
60-6930A-12Alabama Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville
60-6931A-12CIA Headquarters Museum (formerly at Minnesota ANG Museum, St Paul, MN
60-6932A-12crashed 5 June 1968, CIA pilot killed
60-6933A-12San Diego Aerospace Museum
60-6934YF-12Adestroyed on landing 14 August 1966
60-6935YF-12AUSAF Museum, Dayton, OH
60-6936YF-12Acrashed 24 June 1971, crew ejected safely
60-6937A-12Storage, Plant 42 (Skunk Works)
60-6938A-12 USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, AL
60-6939A-12destroyed on landing 9 July 1964, crew ejected safely
60-6940A-12 Museum of Flight, Seattle
60-6941M-12crashed 30 July 1966 , pilot survived, LCO killed
61-7971SR-71A Evergreen Aviation Museum, Oregon
64-17950SR-71A destroyed on takeoff 11 April 1969, crew ejected safely
64-17951SR-71A Pima Air Museum, Tucson, AZ (NASA YF-12C 937)
64-17952SR-71A crashed 25 January 1966, pilot survived, RSO killed
64-17953SR-71A crashed 18 December 1969, crew ejected safely
64-17954SR-71A destroyed on takeoff 11 April 1969, crew ejected safely
64-17955SR-71AAFFTC Museum, Edwards AFB, CA
64-17956SR-71B Air Zoo, Kalamazoo, MI
64-17957SR-71B crashed 11 January 1968, crew ejected safely
64-17958SR-71A Robbins AFB Museum, GA
64-17959SR-71A Air Force Armament Museum, Eglin AFB, FL
64-17960SR-71A Castle Air Museum, Merced, CA
64-17961SR-71AKansas Cosmosphere & Space Center, Hutchinson, KS
64-17962SR-71AReserve Fleet, Plant 42, Palmdale, CA
64-17963SR-71A Beale AFB Museum, CA
64-17964SR-71A Strategic Air & Space Museum, Ashland, NE
64-17965SR-71A crashed 25 October 1967, crew ejected safely
64-17966SR-71A crashed 13 April 1967, crew ejected safely
64-17967SR-71AOperational (USAF), Det 2, 9th SW, Edwards AFB, CA
64-17968SR-71A Virginia Aviation Museum
64-17969SR-71A crashed 10 May 1970, crew ejected safely
64-17970SR-71A crashed 17 June 1970, crew ejected safely
64-17971SR-71AOperational (USAF), Det 2, 9th SW, Edwards AFB, CA
64-17972SR-71ANational Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C.
64-17973SR-71A Blackbird Airpark, Palmdale, CA (Det 1 ASC)
64-17974SR-71A crashed 21 April 1989, crew ejected safely
64-17975SR-71AMarch Field Museum, March AFB, CA
64-17976SR-71AUSAF Museum, Dayton, OH
64-17977SR-71Adestroyed in takeoff accident 10 October 1968
64-17978SR-71Adestroyed in landing accident 20 July 1972
64-17979SR-71A History & Traditions Museum, Lackland AFB, TX
64-17980SR-71A Operational, NASA Dryden FRC, Edwards AFB, CA
64-17981SR-71C Hill AFB Museum, Hill AFB, UT
SR-71A American Air Museum, Duxford, United Kingdom

  • Blackbird Survivors - Where are they?
  • Blackbird Family Losses List
  • A-11 / A-12



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    Updated September 7, 2010