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Lockheed SR-71C Blackbird

History of the SR-71 Blackbird

A favorite of many aviation enthusiasts, SR-71s were long-range, strategic, photo-reconnaissance aircraft that first took flight during the Vietnam War in 1964. The SR-71 is best known for its world record speeds, many of which were set without pushing its full capabilities. From 80,000 feet, these aircraft could survey 100,000 square miles of the earth’s surface per hour.

Lockheed SR-71C Blackbird

Serial Number: 61-7981

Manufacturer: Lockheed Aircraft Corporation

Crew: Two

Engines: Two Pratt & Whitney J58 turbojet engines; 32,500 pounds thrust each in afterburner

Wingspan: 55 feet 7 inches

Length: 107 feet 5 inches

Height: 18 feet 6 inches

Weight: 170,000 pounds (maximum)

Speed: Mach 3+ (over 2,000 mph)

Range: 2,590 miles

Service Ceiling: Over 85,000 feet

Armament: None

Cost: $34,000,000

The SR-71C Blackbird at Hill Air Force Base

The SR-71C, located at Hill Aerospace Museum, is a one-of-a-kind. There was only one C model Blackbird ever built and it was the final SR-71 to be manufactured. The C model is a hybrid between the rear fuselage of the YF-12A and a functional engine mock-up of a SR-71A forward fuselage built for static testing. The C model was built after the second of the two B model trainers crashed in January 1968.

The C model made its first flight in March 1969. In September 1970, following flight testing, it was delivered to the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base. The aircraft only logged 556.4 flight hours, not including the 180.9 flight hours accumulated from the YF-12A, and completed its final flight in April 1976, when it was removed from flying status in June 1976. The aircraft was then moved into long-term storage at the Lockheed plant in Palmdale, California.

Utah Senator Orrin G. Hatch intervened and Hill Aerospace Museum was assigned the aircraft in April 1990. Planning to move the SR-71 from California to Hill Aerospace Museum began immediately. Members of the Air Force Heritage Foundation of Utah, the 67th Aerial Port Squadron and the 405th Combat Logistics Support Squadron (CLSS) traveled to California to decide the best way to disassemble, package and transport the aircraft back to Hill Aerospace Museum.

In August 1990, the aircraft was broken down into three major pieces and sorted into smaller components for transport on a C-5 Galaxy. When the disassembly was completed, there was no cargo aircraft immediately available to transport the aircraft. In Spring 1991, representatives from the 67th Aerial Port Squadron and 405th CLSS traveled twice with large, flat-bed trucks to transport most of the palatalized components, leaving only larger components that required to be moved by a cargo aircraft. In August 1991, the final transport was arranged.

It was a two-month process to reassemble the SR-71C model, but thanks to 405th CLSS, Hill Aerospace Museum volunteers, Air Force Reservists and many active-duty personnel, the aircraft was ready for display in October 1991 at Hill Aerospace Museum.

Discover answers to the following questions about the SR-71C Blackbird.

The SR-71 is a Cold War-era spy plane used by the United States (US) military. Designed to fly at speeds of Mach 3, this jet-powered, piloted aircraft is the fastest plane on record. The SR-71C at Hill Aerospace Museum in Utah is the only C-model Blackbird ever built.

What was the SR-71 used for?

The SR-71 was developed post-WWII, when Soviet surveillance and reconnaissance was in high demand. The aircraft was requested by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who was seeking a plane that would be less vulnerable to enemy attack. The U-2 was initially developed, followed by the A-12 and finally the Lockheed SR-71, which also fulfilled a request from the US Air Force (AF) for a high-altitude interceptor aircraft that could fly long ranges at triple Mach speed.

What was the top speed of the SR-71 Blackbird?

The Blackbird holds the record as the world’s fastest stealth aircraft, with a max speed of Mach 3.3 at 2,193 miles per hour.

What made the SR-71 so fast?

The SR-71 Blackbird features Pratt & Whitney J58 engines designed to operate continuously in afterburner, which is when fuel is added to the aircraft exhaust to increase speed. This allowed the SR-71 to cruise at supersonic speed. The airframe was purpose-built for extreme speeds, with air-inlet “spikes” that retracted into the engine to reduce the speed of incoming air and keep the internal engine air pressure at a constant. Also, the stealth design of the Blackbird reduced its radar signature, allowing the airframe to use speed to evade attack.

Why did they retire the SR-71 Blackbird?

The USAF officially retired the SR-71 in 1989, primarily for political reasons at the end of the Cold War. It was briefly reactivated in the 1990s after proponents of the SR-71 demanded its return to service. Although Congress allocated $100 million to return three to service, they were grounded again in 1996 and fully retired in 1999 when the remaining aircraft were transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Is the SR-71 Blackbird the fastest plane in the world?

Although the A-12 Oxcart (developed for the CIA) could fly faster, the SR-71 is the official record holder for speed. This legendary aircraft holds four speed records, including a record-setting, coast-to-coast flight of 2,404 miles in 68:17.

Special Note: the Blackbird holds the record for the World’s fastest, piloted, production aircraft. The X-15—a piloted, experimental aircraft—hit Mach 6.70 (or about 5,140 mph). Meanwhile the X-43—an unmanned test aircraft—hit Mach 9.8 (or about 7,519 mph) in 2004. Now that’s some speed!

How high can the SR-71 Blackbird Fly?

The SR-71 could reach altitudes of 85,000 feet––about 16 miles above earth––and cruise just above Mach 3 speed. This enabled the Blackbird to cover more than 100,000 square miles in about one hour. The record for sustained altitude in horizontal flight is 85,069 feet at 2,193.2 miles per hour (Mach 3.3).

How long can the SR-71 operate before it needs refueling?

The SR-71 Blackbird can fly 2,500 miles without refueling.

Are SR-71 Blackbirds still in use?

Today, fifteen of the remaining SR-71s are in museums across the US. Lockheed retains ownership of three aircraft and NASA retains three more for high-speed, high-altitude, aeronautical research. Of the thirty-three SR-71s built, twelve were lost in accidents, but not a single Blackbird was ever lost to enemy fire.

What was it like to fly the SR-71?

The SR-71 crew included a pilot and a reconnaissance systems officer. Retired Air Force Colonel Joe Kinego reported a lack of sensation while flying: “The only sensation of speed is looking at your gauges and seeing the miles clicking by as fast as they are.”

SR-71 Virtual Tour