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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.

 Updated: 2/1/2017; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©

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.

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Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird Technical Specifications

Service Year: 1966
Type: High-Altitude, High-Speed Reconnaissance Aircraft
National Origin: United States
Manufacturer(s): Lockheed Skunkworks, Lockheed Corporation - USA
Production Total: 32

Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

Operating Crew (Typical): 2
Overall Length: 107.41 feet (32.74 meters)
Overall Width: 55.58 feet (16.94 meters)
Overall Height: 18.50 feet (5.64 meters)

Weight (Empty): 67,506 lb (30,620 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 172,005 lb (78,020 kg)

Cockpit Image


Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

Propulsion: 2 x Pratt & Whitney J58-1 continuous-bleed, afterburning turbo-ramjets developing 32,500 lb of thrust.

Maximum Speed: 2,274 mph (3,660 kph; 1,976 knots)
Maximum Range: 3,682 miles (5,925 km)
Service Ceiling: 85,007 feet (25,910 meters; 16.10 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 11,820 feet-per-minute (3,603 m/min)

Armament / Mission Payload

None. Internal provisioning limited to reconnaissance and surveillance equipment.

Global Operators / Customers

United States

Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

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.