The SR71 Blackbird is without a doubt one of the most advanced aircraft ever built, and it has many secrets. Its origins were shrouded in such secrecy that observers mistook it for a UFO. It was so well designed that it was nearly impossible to detect with the equipment available at the time. But even if it was detected, how do you stop a plane that can outrun a missile at altitudes close to the edge of space?
This secretive plane was one of America’s most valuable assets, solely responsible for secretly surveying vast areas of enemy territory on unprecedented timescales. But it wasn’t just spying; the plane also assisted NASA in its space ambitions, as well as pioneering technology that was later used by the commercial flight industry.
With all of the amazing features of the SR71 Blackbird, you’ll discover the 16 biggest secrets of the SR71 Blackbird.
Following the Top 16 SR71 Blackbird Secrets
The SR71 Blackbird’s first secret was that it was a secret
the three organizations tasked with carrying out the plan; the United States Air Force, Lockheed Martin, and the CIA, prevented ANY leaks about the plane. The CIA kept a constant eye on everyone involved, including their families. Even new aspects of computer numerical control machining, which was used in its production, were kept hidden. President Johnson finally unveiled the plane in 1964.
When the original SR-71 Blackbird concept was developed, there was only one option for the airframe, and that was the little-used Titanium. The reasoning was that titanium was the only metal capable of withstanding the high temperatures experienced by the plane at speeds exceeding 2000 miles per hour.
The second reason was the need for the plane to be lightweight; steel would be too heavy, and aluminium would be too weak or heat resistant.
NASA’s Unknown Weapon
NASA, the purveyors of fine spacecraft, used the Blackbird’s capabilities to aid in their space research programmes. One method was to attach a camera to the SR71, which assisted in tracking celestial objects that were obscured by Earth’s atmosphere.
Never been shot down
Despite numerous attempts, the Blackbirds were never shot down by a missile during their entire service life. And this was due to a single factor: the plane simply outpaced the missile. Because the pilots were able to detect the missile from afar, they had advanced warnings, so even if the missile matched the Blackbird’s speed, the plan had an advantage.
Another extraordinary advantage was the plane’s advanced jamming technology, which could prevent the missile from receiving updated locations on the SR71.
It’s Reasonably Priced
It was relatively inexpensive by today’s standards: an SR-71 Blackbird cost $36 million in 1966, which is about $292 million today. To put that in context, each B-2 Spirit bomber costs a whopping $2 BILLION.
Composite Materials Come In First
The SR-71 Blackbird was built with some of the first composite materials ever used on a plane. These materials allowed the SR-71 to fly even lower to the ground, where it was barely visible to radar.
The plane was so good that by the time the enemy noticed it, the SR-71 was already out of the enemy territory.
During the flight, the SR71 Blackbird expands
One of the strangest, or coolest, secrets of the SR71 Blackbird is that the plane expands during high-speed and high-altitude flights.
This would obviously be disastrous in any other plane, but it was anticipated, and expansion joints were strategically placed on the plane during the initial design so that the frame could expand without causing failures.
Altitude and Speed Records
The SR71 Blackbird flew at a sustained altitude of 85,069 feet and top speeds of 2,193 MPH in 1976, setting top speed and altitude records that have yet to be broken. To put the SR71’s speed into context, 2,193 MPH is three times the speed of sound, and even a modern fighter like the F-22 can only manage 1,500 MPH.
Furthermore, the SR71 assisted NASA with research on how to rebuild and protect the ozone layer, a region of the Earth’s atmosphere that absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the sun. So it also saved the environment!
Problems with Reliability
One of the lesser-known facts about the SR71 Blackbird was that it was notoriously unreliable, owing to its complexity. Twelve of the 32 produced were lost in accidents, none of which were related to the enemy. However, the benefits outweighed the drawbacks for the US Air Force, and they were willing to overlook the reliability issues.
Pilots were required to wear Space Suits
The pilots had to wear special suits in the air due to the high speeds and altitudes that the SR71 is capable of reaching. These suits were pressurised, and their helmets resembled those worn by astronauts heading into space.
A hose connected their helmets to an oxygen supply, allowing them to breathe properly at high altitudes. The pilots’ suits also shielded them from the intense heat generated by the SR71 at the top of its speed range.
Things were scorching!
Any plane travelling at such high speeds is susceptible to extremely high temperatures. The majority of the plane reached 500 degrees Fahrenheit while travelling at top speed. The engine housing heated up to a mind-boggling 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
The majority of the fuel was added AFTER takeoff.
As previously stated, the plan was notoriously untrustworthy. Due to the 80,000 pounds of fuel on board, a few of the planes’ tyres have failed. Following these mishaps, it was decided to reduce the takeoff fuel to 40,000 Pounds and then refuel in the air before the start of a mission.
The Best Camera Secrets
Another little-known fact about the SR71 Blackbird was that it was equipped with one of the most advanced cameras available. This incredible camera, combined with the plane’s high altitude capabilities, allowed the camera to take photos 72 miles wide.
The SR71 Blackbird Needed Special Tires
Many of the initial failures were caused by tyre problems. Lockheed was forced to work in secret to create custom-made tyres for the Blackbird. This new tyre was created to support the plane’s massive weight while also withstanding the high temperatures generated during landing.
There are no defence capabilities
At first glance, one might believe that a plane designed for the United States Air Force and the CIA would have the best offensive and defensive capabilities. However, it must be remembered that the SR71 was a spy plane, and its stealth, ability to outrun missiles and high altitude capabilities were a sufficient defence.
A Unique Breed of Pilots
The SR71 Blackbird was not an easy plane to fly. As a result, potential SR71 pilots had to undergo extensive training in addition to the already stringent requirements of the US Air Force. In fact, due to the high altitudes that the pilots would be flying at, as well as the high speeds, the training consisted of the same physical training that NASA astronauts received.