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Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird

posted by Jiri Wagner

Built over thirty years ago, the SR-71 Blackbird remains today the highest flying, fastest plane in the world. When fuel is low the plane can reach altitudes of over 90,000 feet. This is considered to be the extreme edges of Space. (Commercial airliners cruise at altitudes around 30,000 feet). Originally, the Blackbird was built to be equipped with weapons but was converted into a reconnaissance plane when it was realized that the plane flew faster than a rifle bullet. In simple terms, it would have shot itself down. The Blackbird is powered by two Pratt & Whitney jet engines with 34,000 pounds of thrust each, roughly the power of 55 locomotives. It is capable of speeds greater than Mach 3+. Flew from Los Angeles to Washington D.C in 1 hour, 13 minutes. Can fly over the state of Utah in approximately 4 minutes. From San Francisco to Los Angeles takes 8 minutes.

The premier reconnaissance plane, the SR-71 can photograph a license plate from 80,000 feet. The SR-71 actually flew over Russian airspace photographing sensitive sites at the height of the cold war.

Why is the SR-71 Being Retired?

Due to new spy-satellites and the very high costs of the SR-71 program, the recent budget cuts in defense have taken their toll on the Blackbird program. In 1990 it was decided that all SR-71 Blackbirds would be retired. NASA still uses three Blackbirds for high altitude research. There is some speculation that the military may still use the services of the Blackbird.

Interesting Facts About SR-71

Three SR-71 aircraft are being used by NASA as testbeds for high-speed, high-altitude aeronautical research. at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA. They have been loaned to NASA by the U.S. Air Force and are the only SR-71s in service.

The aircraft can fly more than 2200 mph (Mach 3+ or more than three times the speed of sound) and at altitudes of over 85,000 ft. Developed for the U.S. Air Force as reconnaissance aircraft more than 28 years ago, SR-71s are still the world's fastest and highest-flying production aircraft.

The aircraft are 107.4 ft (32.73 m) long, have a wing span of 55.6 ft (16.94 m), and are l8.5 ft (5.63 m) high (ground to the top of the rudders when parked).

Gross takeoff weight is about 140,000 lb (52253.83 kg), including a fuel weight of 80,000 lb (29859.33 kg).

The airframes are built almost entirely of titanium and titanium alloys to withstand heat generated by sustained Mach 3 flight.

Aerodynamic control surfaces consist of all-moving vertical tail surfaces above each engine nacelle, ailerons on the outer wings, and elevators on the trailing edges between the engine exhaust nozzles.
The three SR-71s at Dryden have been assigned the following NASA tail numbers: NASA 831 (B model), military serial 64-17956, manufactured in Sept. 1965; NASA 832 (A model), military serial 64-17971, manufactured in Oct. 1966; NASA 844 (A model), military serial 64-17980, manufactured in July 1967.


General characteristics

Primary function Strategic reconnaissance
Contractor Lockheed Aircraft Corp.
Power plant Two Pratt & Whitney JT11D-20B turbofans with afterburner
Thrust 2x 32,500 lb 2x 144.6 kN
Wingspan 55 ft 7 in 16.94 m
Length 107 ft 5 in 32.74 m
Height 18 ft 6 in 5.64 m
Wingarea 1,800 sq ft 167.22 sq m
Weight empty 60,000 lb 27,216 kg
Max. takeoff  weight 170,000 lb 77,100 kg
Max. speed over Mach 3 (3,219 km/h) at 24,385 m
Ceiling more than 80,000 ft 24,380 m
Range 2,982 miles 4,800 km

without refueling at maximum speed

Crew Two
Armament None
Date deployed 1964



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