SR-71 Blackbird: A Technological Wonder
There is no reconnaissance aircraft that has the capability to operate in hostile airspace as the SR-71, which is also considered as the fastest jet-propelled airplane in the world. The Blackbird’s capabilities and operational accomplishments put it at the top of the aviation technology developments during the period of the Cold War.
The SR-71 Blackbird is undoubtedly the most technologically advanced aircraft ever created during that time. It became a legend itself.
The SR-71 Blackbird, a technological wonder, nearly every aspect of its design used a different approach and advances in technology. To take on high temperatures due to the friction created in the upper atmosphere during the flight speed of Mach 3, the SR-71 Blackbird needed a wide array of specifically made materials such as sealants, wirings, high-temperature, fuel, lubricants, and other components. Almost ninety percent of the air frame of the SR-71 Blackbird was made of a titanium alloy that permitted the aircraft to operate in places where temperatures could reach 450 degrees Fahrenheit to 950 degrees Fahrenheit. The materials of the cockpit canopy were made from special heat resistant glass that can tolerate surface temperatures of up to 640 degrees Fahrenheit.
The engine of the SR-71 was made of 2 Pratt & Whitney J58 axial-flow turbojet engines with the company designation of JT11D-20. The J58 was considered as a significant invention during that time, which has the capability to produce a static thrust of 32,500 lbf (145 kN). The engine was noted to be efficient at Mach 3.2, which the SR-71’s normal cruising speed. At lower speeds, it was the turbojet that delivered most of the compression. And during higher speeds, the engine has mostly stopped to deliver a thrust, where the afterburner takes its place.
The SR-71’s first flight was on December 22, 1964. It took off at the Air Force Plant 42 in California. And during the flight test, it was said that the Blackbird reached a top speed of Mach 3.4. The Blackbird first entered service with the 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing located at Beale Air Force Base in California during January 1966.
March 8, 1968, marked the first arrival of the SR-71 at the 9th SRW’s Operating Location at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. The deployed Blackbirds were code named ‘Glowing Heat”, and the program as a whole had a code name of “Senior Crown”. The code name for the reconnaissance missions in the Northern part of Vietnam was “Giant Scale”. On March 21, 1968, Major Jerome F. O’Malley alongside Major Edward D. Payne took off from Kadena Air Base, Okinawa and flew the first Blackbird in SR-71 serial number 61-7976. In the course of its career, this Blackbird flew for 2,981 flying hours and flew 942 total sorties, which included 257 operational missions.
The SR-71 #972 was formally discharged from its service with the United States Air Force on March 6, 1990. Appropriately, during its last flight, the Blackbird broke one last record, marking on record books the travel time from LA, California to Washington, DC in only 1 hour, 4 minutes and 20 seconds. Pilots RSO, Lt. Col. J.T. Vida and Lt. Col. Ed Yeilding were the ones who piloted this momentous flight.
NASA was able to fly the remaining two airworthy SR-71 Blackbirds up until 1999. All other remaining SR-71’s were relocated to various museums with the exceptions of the 2 SR-71 and a few D-21 drones that NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (currently Armstrong Flight Research Center) retained.