Lockheed’s SR-71 is one of the most distinguished and recognizable aircraft ever built, and to the pilots who flew her, she was beloved and a joy to fly. The SR-71 went into service for the United States Air Force in 1964 and was retired from service in 1998. Built solely for reconnaissance, it performed thousands of missions throughout the Vietnam conflict and The Cold War with Russia. Capable of speeds in excess of Mach 3.0, she was extremely fast for her time, much to the chagrin of the over 4,000 missiles that tried to shoot her down.
Below are some of the more interesting facts about this mysterious and inspiring aircraft.
- The first flight of an SR-71 took place on 22 December 1964, at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.
- The aircraft could reach a speed of Mach 3.4
- Over 4,000 missiles were fired at the SR-71 over the course of its service. None of the 32 aircraft were ever shot down. The 12 Blackbirds lost in service were all due to accidents.
- About 85% of the SR-71’s structure was made from titanium. Polymers and composites made up the remaining 15%.
- The fuselage was made of panels that were loosely fit together. Once the aircraft was in flight, friction heated the panels, causing them to expand and fit snugly together. As a result, the aircraft leaked JP-7 jet fuel while on the ground.
- According to pilot Richard Graham, the aircraft “is extremely quiet in the cockpit.”
- The photographic cameras on the Blackbird could take a photograph of a vehicle’s license plate at 80,000 feet while speeding along at over 2,000 mph.
- Surprisingly, the SR-71 never flew a mission over the landmass of Russia or China despite being designed as a spy plane during the cold war.
- Vast amounts of titanium were needed to build the SR-71 aircraft. More than the United States had at the time. So, the CIA created fake companies all throughout the world whereby they purchased the titanium from the biggest supplier; the USSR!
- A urine collection device (UCD) allowed pilots to relieve themselves during flight. There was no equivalent device for number 2.
- The ultra top secret SR-71 plane was built at the Skunk Works facility in Burbank, California.
- There were two cockpits on the SR-71, but the pilots could only communicate with one another via radio.
- At Mach 3.2, the outer skin of the aircraft would reach a temperature of 500°F and the windshield 250°F. As a result, a massive air conditioning unit was required to keep the cockpit cool.
- The SR-71 required a in-flight refueling after 90 minutes of supersonic flight.