The most complete documentary about this plane, published by Animagraffs

The fascinating engineering and lesser-known details of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is by far the most incredible aircraft ever made in the history of aviation.

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This spy plane, dedicated by the United States Air Force (USAF) to strategic reconnaissance missions, initially one of the secret projects of Lockheed's Skunk Works division, made its first flight on December 22 1964. Today it still holds the title of fastest jet aircraft, as it reached a speed of Mach 3.3 (3,540 km/h), with a flight ceiling of 26,000 meters. It was so fast and flew so high that Soviet missiles could not reach it. The USSR never managed to shoot down any SR-71 in the 32 years it was active with the USAF (from 1966 to 1998).

A SR-71A of the United States Air Force in 1988 (Photo: NARA).

Due to air friction at such high speeds, the fuselage of the SR-71 endured such high temperatures that 85% of its structure was made of titanium, a metal known for its lightness and high Heat resistance. The paradox is much of the titanium was produced in the USSR, so the US created a series of front companies to obtain it from its great rival through other countries. In total, 32 SR-71s were built, 12 of them were lost in accidents.

A NASA SR-71A during a flight over the Tahachapi Mountains in 1992 (Photo: NASA).

The SR-71 had two operators: the USAF, which used it in the aforementioned reconnaissance missions from two bases located in California (Beale AFB and Edwards AFB) and as an experimental aircraft in Edwards, and NASA, which was its last operator between 1991 and 1999flying three SR-71s on loan from the USAF (two SR-71A and one SR-71B) at Edwards AFB's Dryden Flight Research Center . Today, 15 of them are in museums (one in the United Kingdom and the rest in the US) and 5 are still in US air bases, retired from service.

The three SR-71s that were transferred by the USAF to NASA and that this space agency operated between 1991 and 1999: one SR-71B (in the center) and two SR-71A (Photo: NASA).

This Friday, Animagraffs published an excellent video by Jacob O'Neal analyzing the incredible engineering that made the SR-71 possible, showing its aerodynamic characteristics, the operation of its engines, its fuel tanks and the elements that made it the first stealth aircraft (that is, specially designed to reduce its radar signature), as well as the instruments in its cockpits and the pressurized suits of its two crew members. It is, by far, the best and most complete documentary that has been published on the SR-71:


Main photo: NARA. An SR-71 in the United Kingdom in 1983.

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