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No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated globally in far more hostile airspace or with such total impunity than the SR-71, the world’s quickest jet-propelled aircraft. The Blackbird’s efficiency and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technologies developments during the Cold War.
This Blackbird accrued about 2,800 hours of flight time throughout 24 years of active service with the U.S. Air Force. On its final flight, March 6, 1990, Lt. Col. Ed Yielding and Lt. Col. Joseph Vida set a speed record by flying from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging 3,418 kilometers (two,124 miles) per hour. At the flight’s conclusion, they landed at Washington-Dulles International Airport and turned the airplane over to the Smithsonian.
Transferred from the United States Air Force.
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation
Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson
Country of Origin:
United States of America
Overall: 18ft five 15/16in. x 55ft 7in. x 107ft 5in., 169998.5lb. (five.638m x 16.942m x 32.741m, 77110.8kg)
Other: 18ft five 15/16in. x 107ft 5in. x 55ft 7in. (five.638m x 32.741m x 16.942m)
Twin-engine, two-seat, supersonic strategic reconnaissance aircraft airframe constructed largley of titanium and its alloys vertical tail fins are constructed of a composite (laminated plastic-variety material) to decrease radar cross-section Pratt and Whitney J58 (JT11D-20B) turbojet engines feature large inlet shock cones.
No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated in much more hostile airspace or with such full impunity than the SR-71 Blackbird. It is the quickest aircraft propelled by air-breathing engines. The Blackbird’s efficiency and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technologies developments in the course of the Cold War. The airplane was conceived when tensions with communist Eastern Europe reached levels approaching a complete-blown crisis in the mid-1950s. U.S. military commanders desperately needed correct assessments of Soviet worldwide military deployments, specifically close to the Iron Curtain. Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s subsonic U-2 (see NASM collection) reconnaissance aircraft was an able platform but the U. S. Air Force recognized that this reasonably slow aircraft was already vulnerable to Soviet interceptors. They also understood that the rapid development of surface-to-air missile systems could put U-2 pilots at grave threat. The danger proved reality when a U-two was shot down by a surface to air missile over the Soviet Union in 1960.
Lockheed’s initial proposal for a new higher speed, higher altitude, reconnaissance aircraft, to be capable of avoiding interceptors and missiles, centered on a design and style propelled by liquid hydrogen. This proved to be impracticable because of considerable fuel consumption. Lockheed then reconfigured the design for traditional fuels. This was feasible and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), currently flying the Lockheed U-two, issued a production contract for an aircraft designated the A-12. Lockheed’s clandestine ‘Skunk Works’ division (headed by the gifted style engineer Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson) created the A-12 to cruise at Mach three.two and fly nicely above 18,288 m (60,000 feet). To meet these challenging specifications, Lockheed engineers overcame a lot of daunting technical challenges. Flying a lot more than 3 occasions the speed of sound generates 316° C (600° F) temperatures on external aircraft surfaces, which are adequate to melt conventional aluminum airframes. The style group chose to make the jet’s external skin of titanium alloy to which shielded the internal aluminum airframe. Two standard, but very strong, afterburning turbine engines propelled this outstanding aircraft. These energy plants had to operate across a massive speed envelope in flight, from a takeoff speed of 334 kph (207 mph) to far more than three,540 kph (two,200 mph). To stop supersonic shock waves from moving inside the engine intake causing flameouts, Johnson’s group had to design a complicated air intake and bypass method for the engines.
Skunk Performs engineers also optimized the A-12 cross-section style to exhibit a low radar profile. Lockheed hoped to accomplish this by carefully shaping the airframe to reflect as little transmitted radar power (radio waves) as possible, and by application of particular paint made to absorb, rather than reflect, those waves. This treatment became a single of the very first applications of stealth technology, but it by no means entirely met the style ambitions.
Test pilot Lou Schalk flew the single-seat A-12 on April 24, 1962, right after he became airborne accidentally for the duration of high-speed taxi trials. The airplane showed fantastic guarantee but it necessary considerable technical refinement prior to the CIA could fly the very first operational sortie on Could 31, 1967 – a surveillance flight over North Vietnam. A-12s, flown by CIA pilots, operated as portion of the Air Force’s 1129th Unique Activities Squadron under the "Oxcart" system. Whilst Lockheed continued to refine the A-12, the U. S. Air Force ordered an interceptor version of the aircraft designated the YF-12A. The Skunk Works, however, proposed a "specific mission" version configured to conduct post-nuclear strike reconnaissance. This technique evolved into the USAF’s familiar SR-71.
Lockheed constructed fifteen A-12s, which includes a special two-seat trainer version. Two A-12s had been modified to carry a unique reconnaissance drone, designated D-21. The modified A-12s were redesignated M-21s. These were created to take off with the D-21 drone, powered by a Marquart ramjet engine mounted on a pylon amongst the rudders. The M-21 then hauled the drone aloft and launched it at speeds high adequate to ignite the drone’s ramjet motor. Lockheed also constructed three YF-12As but this sort by no means went into production. Two of the YF-12As crashed throughout testing. Only a single survives and is on display at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The aft section of one particular of the "written off" YF-12As which was later employed along with an SR-71A static test airframe to manufacture the sole SR-71C trainer. One particular SR-71 was lent to NASA and designated YF-12C. Including the SR-71C and two SR-71B pilot trainers, Lockheed constructed thirty-two Blackbirds. The very first SR-71 flew on December 22, 1964. Since of extreme operational costs, military strategists decided that the more capable USAF SR-71s must replace the CIA’s A-12s. These have been retired in 1968 following only a single year of operational missions, mostly over southeast Asia. The Air Force’s 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (element of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing) took more than the missions, flying the SR-71 beginning in the spring of 1968.
Following the Air Force began to operate the SR-71, it acquired the official name Blackbird– for the specific black paint that covered the airplane. This paint was formulated to absorb radar signals, to radiate some of the tremendous airframe heat generated by air friction, and to camouflage the aircraft against the dark sky at high altitudes.
Experience gained from the A-12 program convinced the Air Force that flying the SR-71 safely needed two crew members, a pilot and a Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO). The RSO operated with the wide array of monitoring and defensive systems installed on the airplane. This gear included a sophisticated Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) program that could jam most acquisition and targeting radar. In addition to an array of sophisticated, higher-resolution cameras, the aircraft could also carry gear designed to record the strength, frequency, and wavelength of signals emitted by communications and sensor devices such as radar. The SR-71 was made to fly deep into hostile territory, avoiding interception with its tremendous speed and higher altitude. It could operate safely at a maximum speed of Mach three.three at an altitude far more than sixteen miles, or 25,908 m (85,000 ft), above the earth. The crew had to put on pressure suits equivalent to these worn by astronauts. These suits were needed to defend the crew in the occasion of sudden cabin stress loss although at operating altitudes.
To climb and cruise at supersonic speeds, the Blackbird’s Pratt & Whitney J-58 engines have been developed to operate constantly in afterburner. Even though this would seem to dictate high fuel flows, the Blackbird truly achieved its very best "gas mileage," in terms of air nautical miles per pound of fuel burned, for the duration of the Mach three+ cruise. A standard Blackbird reconnaissance flight may require numerous aerial refueling operations from an airborne tanker. Each time the SR-71 refueled, the crew had to descend to the tanker’s altitude, generally about 6,000 m to 9,000 m (20,000 to 30,000 ft), and slow the airplane to subsonic speeds. As velocity decreased, so did frictional heat. This cooling effect caused the aircraft’s skin panels to shrink considerably, and these covering the fuel tanks contracted so considerably that fuel leaked, forming a distinctive vapor trail as the tanker topped off the Blackbird. As quickly as the tanks have been filled, the jet’s crew disconnected from the tanker, relit the afterburners, and again climbed to high altitude.
Air Force pilots flew the SR-71 from Kadena AB, Japan, all through its operational profession but other bases hosted Blackbird operations, also. The 9th SRW sometimes deployed from Beale AFB, California, to other locations to carryout operational missions. Cuban missions were flown directly from Beale. The SR-71 did not commence to operate in Europe until 1974, and then only temporarily. In 1982, when the U.S. Air Force based two aircraft at Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall to fly monitoring mission in Eastern Europe.
When the SR-71 became operational, orbiting reconnaissance satellites had currently replaced manned aircraft to collect intelligence from sites deep within Soviet territory. Satellites could not cover every single geopolitical hotspot so the Blackbird remained a crucial tool for worldwide intelligence gathering. On a lot of occasions, pilots and RSOs flying the SR-71 supplied information that proved important in formulating effective U. S. foreign policy. Blackbird crews offered critical intelligence about the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and its aftermath, and pre- and post-strike imagery of the 1986 raid carried out by American air forces on Libya. In 1987, Kadena-based SR-71 crews flew a number of missions over the Persian Gulf, revealing Iranian Silkworm missile batteries that threatened commercial shipping and American escort vessels.
As the efficiency of space-primarily based surveillance systems grew, along with the effectiveness of ground-primarily based air defense networks, the Air Force started to lose enthusiasm for the pricey system and the 9th SRW ceased SR-71 operations in January 1990. Regardless of protests by military leaders, Congress revived the system in 1995. Continued wrangling more than operating budgets, even so, soon led to final termination. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration retained two SR-71As and the one SR-71B for high-speed investigation projects and flew these airplanes till 1999.
On March six, 1990, the service profession of one Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird ended with a record-setting flight. This particular airplane bore Air Force serial quantity 64-17972. Lt. Col. Ed Yeilding and his RSO, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Vida, flew this aircraft from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging a speed of three,418 kph (2,124 mph). At the conclusion of the flight, ‘972 landed at Dulles International Airport and taxied into the custody of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. At that time, Lt. Col. Vida had logged 1,392.7 hours of flight time in Blackbirds, far more than that of any other crewman.
This certain SR-71 was also flown by Tom Alison, a former National Air and Space Museum’s Chief of Collections Management. Flying with Detachment 1 at Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa, Alison logged far more than a dozen ‘972 operational sorties. The aircraft spent twenty-4 years in active Air Force service and accrued a total of 2,801.1 hours of flight time.
Weight: 170,000 Lbs
Reference and Further Reading:
Crickmore, Paul F. Lockheed SR-71: The Secret Missions Exposed. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1996.
Francillon, Rene J. Lockheed Aircraft Because 1913. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1987.
Johnson, Clarence L. Kelly: A lot more Than My Share of It All. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985.
Miller, Jay. Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Functions. Leicester, U.K.: Midland Counties Publishing Ltd., 1995.
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird curatorial file, Aeronautics Division, National Air and Space Museum.