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The SR-71 Aircraft - Bye Bye Blackbird

by John M. White |

SR-71 In FlightThe Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" is perhaps one of the most fascinating aircraft ever built, particularly considering its first flight took place in December of 1964 - long before most of us even knew the aircraft existed. As pilots we are always interested in aircraft, and in particular unique and interesting aircraft. More than that, we are fascinated by how these aircraft fly, and what it takes to fly them. In the case of this aircraft - the SR-71 "Blackbird", only 32 were ever built and of those 12 were destroyed in accidents.

None were ever lost in combat.

In fact, only one pilot ever lost his life in this aircraft. Unbeknownst to most of us this aircraft flew missions over North Korea, North Vietnam, Red China, Iran, Libya, Cuba, the Middle East, Nicaragua and the Falkland Islands. Weekly the aircraft was used to keep an eye on Soviet Nuclear Submarine bases, Soviet mobile missile sites and Soviet troop movements.

It was a very special aircraft indeed.

In fact, only 93 Air Force pilots ever flew the SR-71 known affectionately as the "sled". Of course it was designed by Kelly Johnson of Lockheed's "Skunk Works", and since 1976 has held the world speed record for an air-breathing manned aircraft. On its final flight to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum it covered the distance in 64 minutes averaging 2,145 mph! The Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" Aircraft

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • 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

SR-71 Performance

  • Maximum speed: Mach 3.3[81][82][N 4] (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/ft² (410 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.44
You can learn more about this fascinating aircraft at

An Interesting Conversation

Lt. Col. USAF Dean E. Ewing related the following story:
One day, high above Arizona , we were monitoring the radio traffic, of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. 'Ninety knots,' ATC replied. A Bonanza soon made the same request. 'One-twenty on the ground,' was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio, with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley, know what real speed was, 'Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,' ATC responded. The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walt's mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walt startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, 'Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.' We did not hear another transmission on that frequency, all the way to the coast.

Watch An Interesting Video Detailing Flying The SR-71 "Blackbird"

Discover More About The SR-71 "Blackbird"

If you would like to see what it is like to fly the SR-71 then try this book: Flying the SR-71 Blackbird: In the Cockpit on a Secret Operational Mission Or, better yet, get your very own SR-71A Blackbird - 1/72 scale model Please share "Bye Bye Blackbird" with your friends using the buttons below. Thanks! Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7+ ps: Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter "All Things Aviation" here!

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