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SR-71 Blackbird

The Lockheed SR-71 is an advanced, long-range, Mach 3 strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft by the Lockheed Skunk Works. The SR-71 was unofficially named the Blackbird, and called the Habu by its crews. Clarence "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for many of the design's innovative concepts. A defensive feature of the aircraft was its high speed and operating altitude, whereby, if a surface-to-air missile launch were detected, standard evasive action was simply to accelerate. The SR-71 line was in service from 1964 to 1998, with 12 of the 32 aircraft being destroyed in accidents, though none were lost to enemy action.

A particularly difficult issue with flight at over Mach 3 is the high temperatures generated. As an aircraft moves through the air, the air in front of the aircraft compresses and this heats the air, and the heat conducts into the aircraft's airframe. To help with this, high temperature materials were needed and the airframe was substantially made of titanium, obtained from the USSR, at the height of the Cold War. Lockheed used all possible guises to prevent the Soviet government from knowing for what the titanium was to be used. In order to control costs, they used a more easily-worked alloy of titanium which softened at a lower temperature. Finished aircraft were painted a dark blue (almost black) to increase the emission of internal heat (since fuel was used as a heat sink for avionics cooling) and to act as camouflage against the sky.

The aircraft was designed to minimize its radar cross-section, an early attempt at stealth design. However, the radar signature minimization did not take into account the extremely hot particles in the exhaust which reflect radar extremely well. Ironically, the SR-71 was one of the largest targets on the Federal Aviation Administration's long-range radars, which were able to track the plane at several hundred miles.

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: 170,000 lb (77,000 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 172,000 lb (78,000 kg)
Powerplant: 2× Pratt & Whitney J58-1 continuous-bleed afterburning turbojets, 32,500 lbf (145 kN) each
Wheel track: 16 ft 8 in (5.08 m)
Wheel base: 37 ft 10 in (11.53 m)
Aspect ratio: 1.7


Maximum speed: Mach 3.2+ (2,200+ mph, 3,530+ km/h) 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: 94 lb/ft2 (460 kg/m2)
Thrust/weight: 0.382