The SR-71 Blackbird was created by the Lockheed Skunk Works team using the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12 aircraft as a basis for development. It was designed as a high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance plane, capable of speeds above Mach 3. It was nicknamed the Habu by its crews, after a species of pit viper found in Okinawa.
Very high temperatures are generated at flight over Mach 3 speeds. The mechanical structure of the aircraft is heated due to the supersonic shock wave that is created at these speeds. To address this problem, the Blackbird was constructed with titanium, which Lockheed received from the Soviet Union during the Cold War through phantom companies so the Soviet Union didn't know what the material was being used for.
The first aircraft to be designed around stealth was in fact the Blackbird. Despite the radar-absorbing materials used for the aircraft and other attempts to reduce its chances of being spotted on radar (such as the cesium fuel additives that were meant to reduce the visibility of the exhaust plumes), the Blackbird was still easily detectable because of its enormous infrared signature and the huge stream of exhaust. Even though the Blackbird could still be picked up by radar, the numerous attempts to destroy the aircrafts with missiles failed because all the pilot had to do was increase the speed and the Blackbird would easily escape. The Blackbird's fantastic survival rate when under attack is due in part to the electronic countermeasures it carried and its ability to climb and accelerate away from danger.
Special pressure suits had to be designed for Blackbird pilots. One of the factors that were considered during the design was the survival of the pilot during ejection. Should a pilot have to eject at Mach 3.2 speeds, they would be exposed to an intense and crippling heat rise pulse of 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The suit was made with an oxygen supply that would keep it pressurized in the event of an emergency ejection. After ejecting from the aircraft, the pilot would have to fall 15,000 feet before the parachute was deployed.
The Blackbird's engines were powered up by "start carts", two external engines that were positioned outside the aircraft. The process of starting the engine was absolutely deafening.
The SR-71 Blackbird project came under attack by Congress in the 1970s for a number of reasons. One of the reasons for the scrutiny was increasing budget concerns. In addition, parts for the aircraft were no longer being made, so airframes had to be scavenged from other sources. One of the bigger disadvantages was the fact that the Blackbird did not have a datalink, meaning that data and photos could not be studied and used until the aircraft landed back at base.
Records & Stats
Highest sustained flight altitude: 85,069 ft.
Fastest absolute speed: 2,193.2 mph.
New York, NY to London, England (3,508 mi.): 1 hr 54 min.
Los Angeles, CA to Washington, DC (2,299 mi.): 1 hr 4 min.
Number of SR-71 Blackbird's Constructed: 32 Number of Blackbirds Destroyed in Accidents: 12
Number of Blackbirds Destroyed by Enemy: 0
Appearances In Games
- In Call Of Duty: Black Ops, the player gets to take off in a Blackbird at the beginning of the mission "WMD". It begins with the pilot walking up to the cockpit and strapping in. With a few button presses, they start the engine, accelerate down the runway, and lift off. After the take off, they use the computer in the cockpit to guide a squad lead by Jason Hudson through enemy territory. In multiplayer, it appears as the 8-Kill streak providing advanced reconnisance, showing the enemy's exact location for 48 seconds.