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Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

High-Altitude, High-Speed Reconnaissance Aircraft

The SR-71 maintained an excellent operational service record during its Cold War tenure, though a dozen were lost to accidents.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 10/16/2018
National Flag Graphic


Year: 1966
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Manufacturer(s): Lockheed Skunkworks, Lockheed Corporation - USA
Production: 32
Capabilities: Reconnaissance (RECCE); Special Forces;
Crew: 2
Length: 107.41 ft (32.74 m)
Width: 55.58 ft (16.94 m)
Height: 18.50 ft (5.64 m)
Weight (Empty): 67,506 lb (30,620 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 172,005 lb (78,020 kg)
Power: 2 x Pratt & Whitney J58-1 continuous-bleed, afterburning turbo-ramjets developing 32,500 lb of thrust.
Speed: 2,274 mph (3,660 kph; 1,976 kts)
Ceiling: 85,007 feet (25,910 m; 16.1 miles)
Range: 3,682 miles (5,925 km; 3,199 nm)
Rate-of-Climb: 11,820 ft/min (3,603 m/min)
Operators: United States
The sleek SR-71 Blackbird spyplane reached an all new plateau in supersonic high-level flight for the Lockheed Corporation. Developed from the YF-12A interceptor program which spawned the A-12 program which in turn generated the basis for the SR-71 system, the Blackbird became the ultimate tool for the American Central Intelligence Agency throughout the Cold War.

The SR-71 "Blackbird" was so named in that fashion due to the specialized heat absorbing and radar dissipating color scheme applied to the series. The A model was crewed by two personnel that were required to wear astronaut-type flight suits due to the rigors of high altitude flight. Looking every bit the part of stealth plane, the SR-71 was instrumental in reconnaissance of enemy Cold War facilities of the Western Bloc.

The Blackbird was of a streamlined delta-type design featuring a smooth elongated fuselage housing instrumentation and fuel. The twin continuous-bleed turbojet engines were held out mid-wing and were the bread and butter of the series, helping the system achieve flight speeds in excess of Mach 3 at well over 70,000 feet. At the time of its inception, the SR-71 was the world's fastest conventionally-powered aircraft.

The initial SR-71 series was developed from experimental YF-121-A interceptor aircraft. From that development, the A-12 series produced 15 of its type which became a favorite of the CIA for its Mach 3.6 capability and useful in the launching of the D-21 reconnaissance drone. The ultimate version became the well-known SR-71 and achieved full operational status in 1966 with a total of 30 aircraft being produced.

Training for SR-71 pilots was handled via a single SR-71B series model and a single SR-71C series model, the latter based highly on a converted A-series model. The SR-71 faced full retirement status in 1989. Two SR-71's were activated out of retirement in in the middle of the 1990's with the whole series once again seeing full retirement in April of 1998.


None. Internal provisioning limited to reconnaissance and surveillance equipment.

Cockpit Picture

Variants / Models

• A-12 - Precursor Model to the SR-71
• M-21 - A-12 with DB-21 autonomous surveillance drone mounted atop fuselage.
• M/D-21 - Designation of M-21 when mated with the DB-21 drone.
• SR-71A - Base Production Model; 30 examples produced.
• SR-71B - Two-seat trainer conversions; 2 examples produced.
• SR-71C - Interesting conversion of a surviving aft-section of an ill-fated YF-12 with a SR-71 forward section. Only one of this type was produced.
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