Strategic Air & Space Site Index
SR-71 Gallery


The sign accompanying the aircraft. It reads

Strategic Reconnaissance

The SR-71 is one of the world's fastest airplanes, and it still holds several speed and altitude records.

The Blackbird hold world records for speed over a 15-mile course (2,193 MPH) and for maximum sustained height (85,069 ft). It also holds speed records from New York to London (1 hour and 55 minutes) and London to Los Angeles (3 hours and 47 minutes). An SR-71 crew consists of a pilot and a reconnaissance systems officer.

Its development by the U.S. Air Force and Central Intelligence Agency was shrouded in secrecy, but the SR-71 came into service as a result of a decision by the CIA to acquire an aircraft with a higher service ceiling and a greater maximum speed than the U-2 aircraft. Constructed largely of titanium, it is coated with high-heat-emissive black paint and supplied with gold engine components to help retard the 1,100-degree F skin temperature of sustained supersonic flight.

Designed as a strategic reconnaissance aircraft, equipment carried included electronic intelligence collection and radar surveillance systems plus photographic equipment that could survey 100,000 square miles of the earth's surface in one hour from a height of 80,000 feet.

Although the aircraft was designated the "RS-71," President Lyndon Johnson is believed to have transposed the name to "SR-71" in his speech revealing the aircraft. "SR" is taken to mean "Strategic Reconnaissance," although neither "SR" nor "SR-71" appear in the official Department of Defense list of aircraft designations.

The first SR-71s were delivered in 1966 to the 4200th SRW, a new unit based at Beale Air Force Base in California, where special KC-135Q tankers of the 100th ARW were also based. Of the initial batch of 29 aircraft, 2 were designated SR-71B for the trainer role. In June 1966, the 4200th was renumbered as the 9th SRW, and these SR-71s were assigned to the 1st SRS. Detachments flew regularly from RAF Mildenhall in the UK and Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

In the 1960s, the Blackbird recorded China's first test of a nuclear bomb, and in 1982, it photographed the presence of Soviet MiGs in Nicaragua. In 1973, an SR-71 provided verification photos for the Arab-Israeli ware cease-fire, and in 1987, the plane flew bomb damage assessment missions following the U.S. attack on Libya. The Blackbird also flew reconnaissance missions over North Korea, North Vietnam, and Cuba.

Although retired in 1990, three SR-71s were reactivated in 1995. Several Blackbirds also are still in use by NASA (designated YF-12C).

About This SR-71A

This SR-71 (SN 61-7964) was manufactured by Lockheed Aircraft and delivered to the U.S. Air Force on May 27, 1966. It was flown to the SAC Museum on March 20, 1990. This Blackbird has the third-highest flight hours (3,370) of all SR-71s.

This aircraft is on loan from the U.S. Air Force Museum Program.

Specifications of the SR-71A

Mission: High-speed, high-altitude strategic reconnaissance

Range: Approximately 3,000 mi at 78,740 ft (Mach 3)

Crew: 2

Years of service: 1966-1990, 1995-c. 1997

Years with SAC: 1966-1990

Number built: 32 (estimate for all models)

Number assigned to SAC: Undetermined

Power Plant: 2 Pratt & Whitney JT11D-20B continuous-bleed, afterburning turbojets, 34,00-lb static thrust each with afterburner, approximately 23,000-lb continuous.

Weight, empty: 60,000 lb

Weight, loaded: 170,000 lb

Maximum take-off weight, loaded: 170,000 lb

Armament: None

Maximum speed: 2,193 MPH at 85,669 ft

Cruising speed: 1,320 MPH at 30,2000 ft (Mach 2)

Service ceiling: 80,000+ ft

Sign accompanying the SR-71 at the Strategic Air & Space.
Time picture taken Fri Apr 17 12:56:54 2009
Location picture taken Atrium (Ground Level)
Strategic Air & Space Museum
Ashland, NE
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