SR-71 Blackbird.

“Everything needed to be invented.” Kelly Johnson the Designer of the SR-71 blackbird. In order to build this astounding aircraft, not only did the aircraft need to be invented, but the tools required to build it, the materials it was built out of, and the techniques of putting it together all had to be invented. Even today, Titanium is used sparingly because of the high cost involved with the material, but on the SR-71, it was constructed out of 80% titanium and the rest was custom made carbon-polymers.

The SR-71 Blackbird

Able to fly at mach 3.3, or over 2000 mph, the leading edges of the aircraft would heat up to well over 500 F due to the friction force of the air. Even the inside of the glass would get up to 250 F, so a special cooling system had to be designed.

Due to the heat that it had to endure, it could not use smooth metal sheets for the “skin” of the aircraft, as they would warp and crack. Instead, it used a corrugated skin that could expand and handle the extreme environment that it had to operate in. This meant that the panels were loose fitting on the ground, but would expand in the air once it got up to temperature. Funny enough, that meant that it leaked constantly while sitting on the ground, and required refueling immediately after take off. Especially considering the MASSIVE engines this thing had. The J58-1 engine was developed specifically for this airframe (albeit, on the A-12 oxcart version). It proved over 34,000 lbf of thrust, and it had two. Just unreal. It was designed to be able to outrun any missiles that may have been fired at it, which it did so on several occasions. It was jokingly said, that the SR-71 could fire a missile, speed up in front of the missile that it fired, back off the throttle and shoot itself down.

Dryden's SR-71B Blackbird, NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight. SR-71B was the trainer version of the SR-71. The dual cockpit to allow the instructor to fly. Note the streaks of fuel from refueling spillage.

It flew so high, that a normal pilots mask could not provide enough oxygen to the pilot. In order to ensure the pilot would not black out flying at its operational altitude of 85,000 feet, a pressurized suit had to be developed, similar to an astronauts suit. No other aircraft has been able to surpass its altitude records. Some have hit a peak altitude of over 85,000 feet, but no other plane has ever maintained the altitude in continuous flight.

Whats even more amazing is that even though this aircraft was initially designed in the 50’s, it still holds many records for speed and altitude. It flew from LA to Washington DC in in 64 minutes. which is 2,299 miles, averaging over 2100 mph to do it. While it has since been retired, the technology that it pioneered is still being used today. Even more so, no other aircraft (except maybe the F-22, but that is debatable.) has been as game changing as this one. I truly envy anyone who gets to sit in the cockpit of this bad boy, let alone fly one at altitude.


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