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Stunning Images Of The SR-71 Blackbird

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SR-71 Blackbirds on ramp
The original trio of SR-71 "Blackbirds" loaned to NASA by the U.S. Air Force for high-speed, high-altitude research line the ramp at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. The three former reconnaissance aircraft, two SR-71 "A" models and one "B" model, can fly more than 2200 mph and at altitudes of over 80,000 feet. This operating environment makes the aircraft excellent platforms to carry out research and experiments in aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, thermal protection materials, atmospheric studies, and sonic boom characterization. One of the "A" models was later returned the Air Force for active duty. It subsequently returned to Dryden. Two SR-71 aircraft have been used by NASA as testbeds for high-speed and high-altitude aeronautical research. The aircraft, an SR-71A and an SR-71B pilot trainer aircraft, have been based here at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. They were transferred to NASA after the U.S. Air Force program was cancelled. As research platforms, the aircraft can cruise at Mach 3 for more than one hour. For thermal experiments, this can produce heat soak temperatures of over 600 degrees Fahrenheit (F). This operating environment makes these aircraft excellent platforms to carry out research and experiments in a variety of areas -- aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, thermal protection materials, high-speed and high-temperature instrumentation, atmospheric studies, and sonic boom characterization. The SR-71 was used in a program to study ways of reducing sonic booms or over pressures that are heard on the ground, much like sharp thunderclaps, when an aircraft exceeds the speed of sound. Data from this Sonic Boom Mitigation Study could eventually lead to aircraft designs that would reduce the "peak" overpressures of sonic booms and minimize the startling affect they produce on the ground. One of the first major experiments to be flown in the NASA SR-71 program was a laser air data collection system. It used laser light instead of air pressure to produce airspeed and attitude reference data, such as angle of attack and sideslip, which are normally obtained with small tubes and vanes extending into the airstream. One of Dryden's SR-71s was used for the Linear Aerospike Rocket Engine, or LASRE Experiment. Another earlier project consisted of a series of flights using the SR-71 as a science camera platform for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. An upward-looking ultraviolet video camera placed in the SR-71's nosebay studied a variety of celestial objects in wavelengths that are blocked to ground-based astronomers. Earlier in its history, Dryden had a decade of past experience at sustained speeds above Mach 3. Two YF-12A aircraft and an SR-71 designated as a YF-12C were flown at the center between December 1969 and November 1979 in a joint NASA/USAF program to learn more about the capabilities and limitations of high-speed, high-altitude flight. The YF-12As were prototypes of a planned interceptor aircraft based on a design that later evolved into the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft. Dave Lux was the NASA SR-71 project manger for much of the decade of the 1990s, followed by Steve Schmidt. Developed for the USAF as reconnaissance aircraft more than 30 years ago, SR-71s are still the world's fastest and highest-flying production aircraft. The aircraft can fly at speeds of more than 2,200 miles per hour (Mach 3+, or more than three times the speed of sound) and at altitudes of over 85,000 feet. The Lockheed Skunk Works (now Lockheed Martin) built the original SR-71 aircraft. 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. The airframes are built almost entirely of titanium and titanium alloys to withstand heat generated by sustained Mach 3 flight. Aerodynamic control surfaces consist of all-moving vertical tail surfaces, ailerons on the outer wings, and elevators on the trailing edges between the engine exhaust nozzles. The two SR-71s at Dryden have been assigned the following NASA tail numbers: NASA 844 (A model), military serial 61-7980 and NASA 831 (B model), military serial 61-7956. From 1990 through 1994, Dryden also had another "A" model, NASA 832, military serial 61-7971. This aircraft was returned to the USAF inventory and was the first aircraft reactivated for USAF reconnaissance purposes in 1995. It has since returned to Dryden along with SR-71A 61-7967.
NASA

Only 31 SR-71 Blackbirds were ever made. These SR-71 images were photographed by civilians or members/veterans of the US. Air Force and NASA.

SR-71 blackbird aircraft
NASA

The SR-71 Blackbird was such a fast, high-flying aircraft that even NASA wanted to take the Blackbird on to do testing of their own. With a service ceiling of 85,000 feet, it could push up to the envelope of where the atmosphere ends and space begins.

SR-71 Blackbird Sunset
A left side view of an SR-71 aircraft from the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing landing. The aircraft is silhouetted against the sunset.
9th Reconnaissance Wing, U.S. Air Force

A left side view of an SR-71 aircraft from the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing landing. The aircraft is silhouetted against the sunset. These SR-71 images were photographed by civilians or members/veterans of the US. Air Force and NASA.

SR-71 blackbird fixture
This close-up, head-on view of NASA's SR-71A Blackbird in flight shows the aircraft with an experimental test fixture mounted on the back of the airplane.
NASA

This close-up, head-on view of NASA’s SR-71A Blackbird in flight shows the aircraft with an experimental test fixture mounted on the back of the airplane.

SR-71 aircraft tail cleanings
Blackbird Maintainers clean the SR-71 static display at Beale Air Force Base, Calif.
9th Reconnaissance Wing, U.S. Air Force

Blackbird Maintainers clean the SR-71 static display at Beale Air Force Base, Calif.

SR-71 Blackbird aircraft prepares for takeoff
One of two initial U.S. Air Force SR-71A reconnaissance aircraft that was retired from operational service and loaned to NASA for high-speed research programs taxis in to the ramp on its arrival at NASA's Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (later Dryden Flight Research Center), Edwards, California in March 1990. Data from the SR-71 high speed research program will be used to aid designers of future supersonic/hypersonic aircraft and propulsion systems. Two SR-71 aircraft have been used by NASA as testbeds for high-speed and high-altitude aeronautical research. The aircraft, an SR-71A and an SR-71B pilot trainer aircraft, have been based here at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. They were transferred to NASA after the U.S. Air Force program was cancelled. As research platforms, the aircraft can cruise at Mach 3 for more than one hour. For thermal experiments, this can produce heat soak temperatures of over 600 degrees Fahrenheit (F). This operating environment makes these aircraft excellent platforms to carry out research and experiments in a variety of areas -- aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, thermal protection materials, high-speed and high-temperature instrumentation, atmospheric studies, and sonic boom characterization. The SR-71 was used in a program to study ways of reducing sonic booms or over pressures that are heard on the ground, much like sharp thunderclaps, when an aircraft exceeds the speed of sound. Data from this Sonic Boom Mitigation Study could eventually lead to aircraft designs that would reduce the "peak" overpressures of sonic booms and minimize the startling affect they produce on the ground. One of the first major experiments to be flown in the NASA SR-71 program was a laser air data collection system. It used laser light instead of air pressure to produce airspeed and attitude reference data, such as angle of attack and sideslip, which are normally obtained with small tubes and vanes extending into the airstream. One of Dryden's SR-71s was used for the Linear Aerospike Rocket Engine, or LASRE Experiment. Another earlier project consisted of a series of flights using the SR-71 as a science camera platform for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. An upward-looking ultraviolet video camera placed in the SR-71's nosebay studied a variety of celestial objects in wavelengths that are blocked to ground-based astronomers. Earlier in its history, Dryden had a decade of past experience at sustained speeds above Mach 3. Two YF-12A aircraft and an SR-71 designated as a YF-12C were flown at the center between December 1969 and November 1979 in a joint NASA/USAF program to learn more about the capabilities and limitations of high-speed, high-altitude flight. The YF-12As were prototypes of a planned interceptor aircraft based on a design that later evolved into the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft. Dave Lux was the NASA SR-71 project manger for much of the decade of the 1990s, followed by Steve Schmidt. Developed for the USAF as reconnaissance aircraft more than 30 years ago, SR-71s are still the world's fastest and highest-flying production aircraft. The aircraft can fly at speeds of more than 2,200 miles per hour (Mach 3+, or more than three times the speed of sound) and at altitudes of over 85,000 feet. The Lockheed Skunk Works (now Lockheed Martin) built the original SR-71 aircraft. 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. The airframes are built almost entirely of titanium and titanium alloys to withstand heat generated by sustained Mach 3 flight. Aerodynamic control surfaces consist of all-moving vertical tail surfaces, ailerons on the outer wings, and elevators on the trailing edges between the engine exhaust nozzles. The two SR-71s at Dryden have been assigned the following NASA tail numbers: NASA 844 (A model), military serial 61-7980 and NASA 831 (B model), military serial 61-7956. From 1990 through 1994, Dryden also had another "A" model, NASA 832, military serial 61-7971. This aircraft was returned to the USAF inventory and was the first aircraft reactivated for USAF reconnaissance purposes in 1995. It has since returned to Dryden along with SR-71A 61-7967.
NASA

The design and features in the Blackbird would go on to influence future aircraft design – including elements used in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and nearly every stealth aircraft produced since. These SR-71 images were photographed by civilians or members/veterans of the US. Air Force and NASA.

SR-71 Blackbird parked
This photo shows a head-on view of NASA's SR-71B, used for pilot proficiency and training, on the ramp at the Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (later, Dryden Flight Research Center), Edwards, California. NASA operated two of these unique aircraft, an SR-71A, for high-speed, high altitude research, and this SR- 71B pilot trainer for most of the decade of the 1990s. The "B" model is special because of its raised rear cockpit, which provided a second pilot position so a trainer and an experienced pilot could both see what was going on during flights. The SR-71 was designed and built by the Lockheed Skunk Works, now the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works. Studies have shown that less than 20 percent of the total thrust used to fly at Mach 3 is produced by the basic engine itself. The balance of the total thrust is produced by the unique design of the engine inlet and "moveable spike" system at the front of the engine nacelles, and by the ejector nozzles at the exhaust which burn air compressed in the engine bypass system. Data from the SR-71 high speed research program will be used to aid designers of future supersonic/hypersonic aircraft and propulsion systems, including a high speed civil transport. Two SR-71 aircraft have been used by NASA as testbeds for high-speed and high-altitude aeronautical research. The aircraft, an SR-71A and an SR-71B pilot trainer aircraft, have been based here at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. They were transferred to NASA after the U.S. Air Force program was cancelled. As research platforms, the aircraft can cruise at Mach 3 for more than one hour. For thermal experiments, this can produce heat soak temperatures of over 600 degrees Fahrenheit (F). This operating environment makes these aircraft excellent platforms to carry out research and experiments in a variety of areas -- aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, thermal protection materials, high-speed and high-temperature instrumentation, atmospheric studies, and sonic boom characterization. The SR-71 was used in a program to study ways of reducing sonic booms or over pressures that are heard on the ground, much like sharp thunderclaps, when an aircraft exceeds the speed of sound. Data from this Sonic Boom Mitigation Study could eventually lead to aircraft designs that would reduce the "peak" overpressures of sonic booms and minimize the startling affect they produce on the ground. One of the first major experiments to be flown in the NASA SR-71 program was a laser air data collection system. It used laser light instead of air pressure to produce airspeed and attitude reference data, such as angle of attack and sideslip, which are normally obtained with small tubes and vanes extending into the airstream. One of Dryden's SR-71s was used for the Linear Aerospike Rocket Engine, or LASRE Experiment. Another earlier project consisted of a series of flights using the SR-71 as a science camera platform for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. An upward-looking ultraviolet video camera placed in the SR-71's nosebay studied a variety of celestial objects in wavelengths that are blocked to ground-based astronomers. Earlier in its history, Dryden had a decade of past experience at sustained speeds above Mach 3. Two YF-12A aircraft and an SR-71 designated as a YF-12C were flown at the center between December 1969 and November 1979 in a joint NASA/USAF program to learn more about the capabilities and limitations of high-speed, high-altitude flight. The YF-12As were prototypes of a planned interceptor aircraft based on a design that later evolved into the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft. Dave Lux was the NASA SR-71 project manger for much of the decade of the 1990s, followed by Steve Schmidt. Developed for the USAF as reconnaissance aircraft more than 30 years ago, SR-71s are still the world's fastest and highest-flying production aircraft. The aircraft can fly at speeds of more than 2,200 miles per hour (Mach 3+, or more than three times the speed of sound) and at altitudes of over 85,000 feet. The Lockheed Skunk Works (now Lockheed Martin) built the original SR-71 aircraft. 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. The airframes are built almost entirely of titanium and titanium alloys to withstand heat generated by sustained Mach 3 flight. Aerodynamic control surfaces consist of all-moving vertical tail surfaces, ailerons on the outer wings, and elevators on the trailing edges between the engine exhaust nozzles. The two SR-71s at Dryden have been assigned the following NASA tail numbers: NASA 844 (A model), military serial 61-7980 and NASA 831 (B model), military serial 61-7956. From 1990 through 1994, Dryden also had another "A" model, NASA 832, military serial 61-7971. This aircraft was returned to the USAF inventory and was the first aircraft reactivated for USAF reconnaissance purposes in 1995. It has since returned to Dryden along with SR-71A 61-7967.
NASA

The SR-71, in many respects, has yet to be beaten in many of the records it has broken, and it was built in a time when America was breaking barrier after barrier in terms of scientific endeavors.

SR-71 Blackbird NASA
NASA's SR-71B, one of three triple-sonic SR-71s loaned to NASA by the Air Force, cruises over the Tehachapi Mountains on a flight from the NASA Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (later, Dryden Flight Research Center), Edwards, California. Two SR-71 aircraft have been used by NASA as testbeds for high-speed and high-altitude aeronautical research. The aircraft, an SR-71A and an SR-71B pilot trainer aircraft, have been based here at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. They were transferred to NASA after the U.S. Air Force program was cancelled. As research platforms, the aircraft can cruise at Mach 3 for more than one hour. For thermal experiments, this can produce heat soak temperatures of over 600 degrees Fahrenheit (F). This operating environment makes these aircraft excellent platforms to carry out research and experiments in a variety of areas -- aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, thermal protection materials, high-speed and high-temperature instrumentation, atmospheric studies, and sonic boom characterization. The SR-71 was used in a program to study ways of reducing sonic booms or over pressures that are heard on the ground, much like sharp thunderclaps, when an aircraft exceeds the speed of sound. Data from this Sonic Boom Mitigation Study could eventually lead to aircraft designs that would reduce the "peak" overpressures of sonic booms and minimize the startling affect they produce on the ground. One of the first major experiments to be flown in the NASA SR-71 program was a laser air data collection system. It used laser light instead of air pressure to produce airspeed and attitude reference data, such as angle of attack and sideslip, which are normally obtained with small tubes and vanes extending into the airstream. One of Dryden's SR-71s was used for the Linear Aerospike Rocket Engine, or LASRE Experiment. Another earlier project consisted of a series of flights using the SR-71 as a science camera platform for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. An upward-looking ultraviolet video camera placed in the SR-71's nosebay studied a variety of celestial objects in wavelengths that are blocked to ground-based astronomers. Earlier in its history, Dryden had a decade of past experience at sustained speeds above Mach 3. Two YF-12A aircraft and an SR-71 designated as a YF-12C were flown at the center between December 1969 and November 1979 in a joint NASA/USAF program to learn more about the capabilities and limitations of high-speed, high-altitude flight. The YF-12As were prototypes of a planned interceptor aircraft based on a design that later evolved into the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft. Dave Lux was the NASA SR-71 project manger for much of the decade of the 1990s, followed by Steve Schmidt. Developed for the USAF as reconnaissance aircraft more than 30 years ago, SR-71s are still the world's fastest and highest-flying production aircraft. The aircraft can fly at speeds of more than 2,200 miles per hour (Mach 3+, or more than three times the speed of sound) and at altitudes of over 85,000 feet. The Lockheed Skunk Works (now Lockheed Martin) built the original SR-71 aircraft. 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. The airframes are built almost entirely of titanium and titanium alloys to withstand heat generated by sustained Mach 3 flight. Aerodynamic control surfaces consist of all-moving vertical tail surfaces, ailerons on the outer wings, and elevators on the trailing edges between the engine exhaust nozzles. The two SR-71s at Dryden have been assigned the following NASA tail numbers: NASA 844 (A model), military serial 61-7980 and NASA 831 (B model), military serial 61-7956. From 1990 through 1994, Dryden also had another "A" model, NASA 832, military serial 61-7971. This aircraft was returned to the USAF inventory and was the first aircraft reactivated for USAF reconnaissance purposes in 1995. It has since returned to Dryden along with SR-71A 61-7967.
NASA

SR-71 was developed as a long-range strategic reconnaissance aircraft capable of flying at speeds over Mach 3.2 and at 85,000 feet.

SR-71 Blackbird Flight crew
Looking more like astronauts than aircraft pilots, members of a fully-suited NASA research flight crew is seen here alongside an SR-71 aircraft. Two SR-71A's were initially loaned to NASA from the Air Force for high-speed, high-altitude aeronautical research. The SR-71As plus an SR- 71B pilot trainer aircraft were based at NASA's Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (later, Dryden Flight Research Center), Edwards, California during the decade of the 1990s. Two SR-71 aircraft have been used by NASA as testbeds for high-speed and high-altitude aeronautical research. The aircraft, an SR-71A and an SR-71B pilot trainer aircraft, have been based here at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. They were transferred to NASA after the U.S. Air Force program was cancelled. As research platforms, the aircraft can cruise at Mach 3 for more than one hour. For thermal experiments, this can produce heat soak temperatures of over 600 degrees Fahrenheit (F). This operating environment makes these aircraft excellent platforms to carry out research and experiments in a variety of areas -- aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, thermal protection materials, high-speed and high-temperature instrumentation, atmospheric studies, and sonic boom characterization. The SR-71 was used in a program to study ways of reducing sonic booms or over pressures that are heard on the ground, much like sharp thunderclaps, when an aircraft exceeds the speed of sound. Data from this Sonic Boom Mitigation Study could eventually lead to aircraft designs that would reduce the "peak" overpressures of sonic booms and minimize the startling affect they produce on the ground. One of the first major experiments to be flown in the NASA SR-71 program was a laser air data collection system. It used laser light instead of air pressure to produce airspeed and attitude reference data, such as angle of attack and sideslip, which are normally obtained with small tubes and vanes extending into the airstream. One of Dryden's SR-71s was used for the Linear Aerospike Rocket Engine, or LASRE Experiment. Another earlier project consisted of a series of flights using the SR-71 as a science camera platform for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. An upward-looking ultraviolet video camera placed in the SR-71's nosebay studied a variety of celestial objects in wavelengths that are blocked to ground-based astronomers. Earlier in its history, Dryden had a decade of past experience at sustained speeds above Mach 3. Two YF-12A aircraft and an SR-71 designated as a YF-12C were flown at the center between December 1969 and November 1979 in a joint NASA/USAF program to learn more about the capabilities and limitations of high-speed, high-altitude flight. The YF-12As were prototypes of a planned interceptor aircraft based on a design that later evolved into the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft. Dave Lux was the NASA SR-71 project manger for much of the decade of the 1990s, followed by Steve Schmidt. Developed for the USAF as reconnaissance aircraft more than 30 years ago, SR-71s are still the world's fastest and highest-flying production aircraft. The aircraft can fly at speeds of more than 2,200 miles per hour (Mach 3+, or more than three times the speed of sound) and at altitudes of over 85,000 feet. The Lockheed Skunk Works (now Lockheed Martin) built the original SR-71 aircraft. 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. The airframes are built almost entirely of titanium and titanium alloys to withstand heat generated by sustained Mach 3 flight. Aerodynamic control surfaces consist of all-moving vertical tail surfaces, ailerons on the outer wings, and elevators on the trailing edges between the engine exhaust nozzles. The two SR-71s at Dryden have been assigned the following NASA tail numbers: NASA 844 (A model), military serial 61-7980 and NASA 831 (B model), military serial 61-7956. From 1990 through 1994, Dryden also had another "A" model, NASA 832, military serial 61-7971. This aircraft was returned to the USAF inventory and was the first aircraft reactivated for USAF reconnaissance purposes in 1995. It has since returned to Dryden along with SR-71A 61-7967.
NASA

The SR-71 was developed as a long-range strategic reconnaissance aircraft capable of flying at speeds over Mach 3.2 and at 85,000 feet.

SR-71 Blackbird aircraft refuel
A NASA SR-71 refuels with an Edwards Air Force Base KC-135 during the first flight of the NASA/Rocketdyne/ Lockheed Martin Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment LASRE. The flight took place Oct. 31 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California. The SR-71 took off at 8:31 a.m. PST. The aircraft flew for one hour and fifty minutes, reaching a maximum speed of Mach 1.2 before landing at Edwards at 10:21 a.m. PST, successfully validating the SR-71/linear aerospike experiment configuration. The goal of the first flight was to evaluate the aerodynamic characteristics and the handling of the SR-71/linear aerospike experiment configuration. The engine was not fired during the flight.
NASA

The first SR-71 to enter service was delivered in 1966 and it was retired in 1990. However, the USAF still kept a few SR-71s in operation up until 1998, after a few were brought back to service in 1995. NASA’s DFRC at Edwards AFB, CA flew the SR-71 from 1991 until the program was canceled in late 2001.

SR-71 blackbird engine start, SR-71 images
NASA

We think you’d love to see these images of the U-2 Dragon Lady Spy Plane! These SR-71 images were photographed by civilians or members/veterans of the US. Air Force and NASA.