What is the SR-71 Blackbird?
The SR-71 Blackbird was built by American aerospace company Lockheed Corporation. It was the fastest plane ever to exist and could outfly any missiles that were fired to shoot it down. The top speed of the SR-71 was around 2,500 mph, meaning that even if it was still in operation today, it would still be the fastest plane in the world.
The history of the SR-71 Blackbird
Launched way back in 1964, the SR-71 Blackbird was unlike anything else in the world and even today you would struggle to match it with regards to pure speed. The plane had been in the works for around a decade prior to its first flight with the US military looking to create an aerial vehicle that would gain them an edge in their ever-growing feud against the Russians.
The precursor to the SR-71, the A-12, was so well received by the USAF that it ordered the first batch of 6 SR-71s, but their development took a while because the technology used was way ahead of its time and thus needed to be fine-tuned. This futuristic plane was so advanced that the designers in charge of making it had to create all of its components from scratch.
The SR-71’s first flight came at the very end of 1964 when Bob Gilliland departed USAF Plant 42 in California, though it didn’t enter service for another 2 years. The SR-71 Blackbird was so successful that reports state not a single one was ever shot down in active combat, despite spending more time in hostile airspace than any other plane in US history.
How fast is the fastest plane in the world?
Able to reach speeds in excess of 2,500 mph, the SR-71 was definitely fast. According to USAF pilot BC Thomas, who flew the SR-71 during the height of the Cold War, almost every flight done was at Mach 3.2, though on occasion he did have to fly at Mach 3.3 if he was taking part in a training exercise. Can you even imagine travelling at such a fast speed?
To put into context just how fast the SR-71 Blackbird was during its peak, BC Thomas said that he “did not consider any Soviet interceptor aircraft to be a reliable threat” because of how fast his vehicle was compared to other planes at the time. He does suggest that other planes did attempt to reach their altitude, but that none ever got close enough for him to see.
The biggest threats posed to the flight crew of the SR-71 planes were surface-to-air missiles. Some were capable of reaching their approximate speed, but according to official records, not a single missile was ever successful in downing an SR-71 Blackbird. When in danger, the crew would immediately jam the missile’s guidance system then turn 45 degrees.
How fast is too fast?
During its almost 30 year career, 12 SR-71s were lost but these incidents only ever resulted in the death of a solitary pilot. This in itself is remarkable given the speeds that they could fly at and the volatility of the loads they carried during operations. According to official records, a majority of SR-71 incidents occurred during the first few years of operation.
The SR-71 without a doubt established the US as the leading global superpower, making clear that their military was able to develop vehicles that could reach speeds that are yet to be matched even today. The SR-71 was so much faster than it ever needed to be, so fast that the pilots themselves never really had to worry about being attacked by enemy planes.
The planes traveled so fast and at such insane altitudes that the crew inside had to wear spacesuits in order to be able to function under such high amounts of physical stress. Those high speeds also meant that the plane had to be built using special materials that were durable because a regular plane’s frame would have melted very quickly.
The legacy of the SR-71
Ignoring the military aspect of the SR-71 Blackbird and what it meant for the US on the global stage, we must appreciate just how much of an engineering marvel the plane truly was. The SR-71 defied everything we thought to be possible at the time and even today the speeds at which it was able to cruise, yes cruise, are simply too crazy for most of us to understand.
Over 2 decades since its retirement, the SR-71 is yet to be matched with regards to speed and things don’t seem to be moving much on that front – officially anyway. Back in 2013 Lockheed Martin proposed a successor to the SR-71, called the SR-72, and the year of 2023 was floated about but things have since gone quiet… maybe it is too confidential to discuss?
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