Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
A long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed and produced by the American aerospace company Lockheed Corporation is the Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird.” It was run by both the Air Force of the United States (USAF) and NASA.
During the 1960s, Lockheed’s Skunk Works division developed the SR-71 from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft as a black effort. For many of the aircraft’s revolutionary designs, American aerospace engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson was responsible. The outline of the SR-71 was based on that of the A-12 aircraft, one of the first to be equipped with a reduced cross-section radar. Before the program was based solely on reconnaissance, a bomber version of the aircraft was under consideration. Signal intelligence sensors, a side-looking airborne radar, and a photo camera were part of the mission equipment for the reconnaissance role; the SR-71 was both longer and heavier than the A-12, allowing it to carry more fuel and a two-seat cockpit. The designation of SR-71 was due to USAF Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay’s lobbying efforts, who favored the designation of SR (Strategic Reconnaissance) over only RSS (Reconnaissance). In January 1966, the aircraft was launched to operational service.
The SR-71 worked at high speeds and altitudes (Mach 3.2 and 85,000 feet, 25,900 meters) during aerial reconnaissance missions to enable it to outrace threats. The typical evasive action was simply to accelerate and outfly the missile if a surface-to-air missile launch was detected. On average, due to the prolonged turnaround needed after mission recovery, each SR-71 was able to fly once a week. A total of 32 aircraft were constructed; 12 were lost in crashes, with none of them lost to enemy action. The USAF withdrew the SR-71 mainly for political reasons during 1988; some were briefly reactivated during the 1990s prior to their second retirement in 1998. NASA was the type’s last operator, withdrawing their examples in 1999. A mix of reconnaissance satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has taken over the role of the SR-71 since its retirement; a potential UAV replacement, Lockheed Martin, was designing the SR-72 and scheduled to fly in 2025. Many nicknames, including “Blackbird” and “Habu”, have been given to the SR-71. As of 2020, the SR-71 continues to hold the world record it set in 1976 the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft, previously held by the related Lockheed YF-12.