30 Years Ago Today An SR-71 Blackbird Flew From LA To Washington DC In 1 Hour

30 Years Ago Today An SR-71 Blackbird Flew From LA To Washington DC In 1 Hour
Lockheed SR-71 landing with drag chute (SN 61-7972) – Credits: U.S. Airforce

On Mar. 6, 1990, SR-71 Blackbird S/N 61-7972 (tail number #972) made its final flight from Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Washington DC to be retired and put on display at The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated globally in more hostile airspace or with such complete impunity than the SR-71, the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft. The Blackbird’s performance and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technology developments during the Cold War.

This Blackbird accrued about 2,800 hours of flight time during 24 years of active service with the U.S. Air Force. On its last flight, March 6, 1990, Lt. Col. Ed Yielding and Lt. Col. Joseph Vida set a speed record by flying from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging 3,418 kilometers (2,124 miles) per hour. At the flight’s conclusion, they landed at Washington-Dulles International Airport and turned the airplane over to the Smithsonian.

During that flight, pilot Lt. Cols. Ed Yielding and RSO (Reconnaissance Systems Operator) Joseph Vida set a speed record flying from LA to DC (2299.7 statute miles) in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging 3,418 km/h (2,124 MPH).

The SR-71 took off from Edwards at 04.30 AM, refueled offshore from a KC-135, flew back over Edwards and then headed eastward at supersonic speed. At 06.01 AM a loud sonic boom rocked Southern California and local residents, hearing the sonic boom, called police to report the sound of an explosion or earthquake.

On the way to its retirement home at the museum, the airplane broke four flight time records: St. Louis to Cincinnati in 8 minutes and 32 seconds (311 miles at 2189.9 MPH); Kansas City to Washington DC om 25 mins and 59 secs (942 miles 2176 MPH) and US West to East Coast in 67 mins and 54 secs (2404 miles 2124.5 MPH). Pretty Impressive.

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

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.

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 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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