All Things Aviation
SR-71A Blackbird Scale: 1/63 scale model Wing Span: 10.5 inches Length: 20.25 inches The Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" is a long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by the United States Air Force. It was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by Lockheed and its Skunk Works division. American aerospace engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for many of the design's innovative concepts. During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 operated at high speeds and altitudes to allow it to outrace threats. If a surface-to-air missile launch were detected, the standard evasive action was simply to accelerate and outfly the missile. The shape of the SR-71 was based on the A-12 which was one of the first aircraft to be designed with a reduced radar cross-section. The SR-71 served with the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998. A total of 32 aircraft were built; 12 were lost in accidents with none lost to enemy action. The SR-71 has been given several nicknames, including "Blackbird" and "Habu". Since 1976, it has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft, a record previously held by the related Lockheed YF-12. Background Main article: Lockheed A-12 Lockheed's previous reconnaissance aircraft was the relatively slow U-2, designed for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). In late 1957, the CIA approached the defense contractor Lockheed to build an undetectable spy plane. The project, named Archangel, was led by Kelly Johnson, head of Lockheed's Skunk Works unit in Burbank, California. The work on project Archangel began in the second quarter of 1958, with aim of flying higher and faster than the U-2. Of 11 successive designs drafted in a span of 10 months, "A-10" was the front-runner. Despite this, however, its shape made it vulnerable to radar detection. After a meeting with the CIA in March 1959, the design was modified to have a 90% reduction in radar cross-section. The CIA approved a US$96 million contract for Skunk Works to build a dozen spy planes, named "A-12" on 11 February 1960. The 1960 downing of Francis Gary Powers's U-2 underscored its vulnerability and the need for faster reconnaissance aircraft such as the A-12. The A-12 first flew at Groom Lake (Area 51), Nevada, on 25 April 1962. Thirteen were built; two variants were also developed, including three of the YF-12 interceptor prototype, and two of the M-21 drone carrier. The aircraft was meant to be powered by the Pratt & Whitney J58 engine, but development ran over schedule, and it was equipped instead with the less powerful Pratt & Whitney J75 initially. The J58s were retrofitted as they became available, and became the standard powerplant for all subsequent aircraft in the series (A-12, YF-12, M-21), as well as the SR-71. The A-12 flew missions over Vietnam and North Korea before its retirement in 1968. The program's cancellation was announced on 28 December 1966, due both to budget concerns and because of the forthcoming SR-71, a derivative of the A-12.