55 Years Ago Today The Legendary SR-71 Blackbird Flew For the First Time

55 Years Ago Today The Legendary SR-71 Blackbird Flew For the First Time
SR-71A, tail number 844, lands at the Edwards AFB runway after a 1996 flight – Credits: Courtesy Photo by NASA

On Dec. 22, 1964, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird flew for the first time at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California.

The Lockheed Skunk Works (now Lockheed Martin) built the original SR-71 aircraft.

The first aircraft to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later, 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California, in January 1966.

Each aircraft is 107.4 feet long, has a wingspan of 55.6 feet, and is 18.5 feet high (from the ground to the top of the rudders, when parked). Gross takeoff weight is about 140,000 pounds, including a possible fuel weight of 80,280 pounds.

Throughout its career, that came to an end on Oct. 9, 1999, no SR-71 was reportedly lost nor damaged due to hostile actions: the SR-71 flew above Mach 3 at 85,000 feet, with a reported top speed of Mach 3.4 during flight testing and Mach 3.5 during on an operational sortie while evading a missile over Libya.

The Pratt & Whitney J58 was a jet engine that powered the Lockheed A-12, and subsequently the YF-12 and the SR-71 aircraft. It’s been called “black magic”: an engine that can push a plane from 0 to Mach 3.2 without breaking a sweat.

For a quarter-century, Lockheed’s Mach 3 SR-71A Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft dominated the skies as no other. As SR-71 pilot and author Brian Shul once noted, more people have stood atop Mt. Everest than have flown what remains the world’s fastest, highest-flying jet. A total of 32 aircraft were built.

The last flight of an SR-71 took place on Oct. 9, 1999, during the Edwards AFB Open House Airshow.

Fourteen years later, in 2013, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, the legendary division that designed airplanes which represented a giant leap for their times such as the F-104, the U-2, the Blackbird family or the F-117A stealth fighter jet, revealed the existence of a sort of SR-71 replacement: a Hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike aircraft dubbed SR-72, designed for Mach 6.

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