Century Wings CW748323 NASA Lockheed SR-71B Blackbird Reconnaissance Aircraft - "831", Edwards AFB, CA, 1999 (1:72 Scale)
"You know the part in 'High Flight' where it talks about putting out your hand to touch the face of God? Well, when we're at speed and altitude in the SR, we have to slow down and descend in order to do that."
- USAF Lt. Col. Gil Bertelson, SR-71 pilot, in 'SR-71 Blackbird: Stories, Tales and Legends,' 2002
The Lockheed SR-71 was an advanced, long-range, Mach 3 strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft by the Lockheed Skunk Works. The SR-71 was unofficially named the Blackbird, and called the Habu by its crews. Clarence "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for many of the design's innovative concepts. A defensive feature of the aircraft was its high speed and operating altitude, whereby, if a surface-to-air missile launch were detected, standard evasive action was simply to accelerate. The SR-71 line was in service from 1964 to 1998, with 12 of the 32 aircraft being destroyed in accidents, though none were lost to enemy action.
The Air Force ordered a reconnaissance version in December 1962. Originally named R-12, it was later renamed SR-71. The SR-71 was longer and heavier than the A-12. Its fuselage was lengthened for additional fuel capacity to increase range. A second seat was added to the cockpit and the chines were reshaped. Reconnaissance equipment included signals intelligence sensors, a side-looking radar and a photo camera.
During the 1964 campaign, Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater continually criticized President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration for falling behind the Soviet Union in the research and development of new weapons systems. Johnson decided to counter this criticism by releasing information on the hitherto highly classified A-12 program, and later the existence of the reconnaissance version.
The SR-71 designator is a continuation of the pre-1962 bomber series, which ended with the XB-70 Valkyrie. During the later period of its testing, the B-70 was proposed for the reconnaissance/strike role, with an RS-70 designation. When it was clear that the Lockheed A-12 performance potential was much greater, USAF decided to pursue an RS-71 version of the A-12 rather than the RS-70. However, then-USAF Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay preferred the SR (Strategic Reconnaissance) designation and wanted the RS-71 to be named SR-71. Before the Blackbird was to be announced by President Johnson on February 29 1964. LeMay lobbied to modify Johnson's speech to read SR-71 instead of RS-71. The media transcript given to the press at the time still had the earlier RS-71 designation in places, creating the myth that the president had misread the aircraft's designation.
This public disclosure of the program and its renaming came as a shock to everyone at the Skunk Works and to Air Force personnel involved in the program. All of the printed maintenance manuals, flight crew handbooks, training slides and materials were labeled "R-12"; while the June 18, 1965 Certificates of Completion issued by the Skunkworks to the first Air Force Flight Crews and their Wing Commander were labeled "R-12 Flight Crew Systems Indoctrination, Course VIII". Following Johnson's speech the name change was taken as an order from the Commander-in-Chief, and immediate reprinting began of new materials, including 29,000 blueprints, to be retitled "SR-71". The SR-71B Blackbird training aircraft features a raised rear cockpit and was often referred to as "the Titanium Goose".
Pictured here is a limited edition 1:72 scale replica of a NASA Lockheed SR-71B Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft that was operated out of Edwards AFB, CA, during 1999. Only 1,000 pieces produced.
Wingspan: 9.25 inches
Length: 17.75 inches
Release Date: July 2010
Historical Account: "Test Bed" - During the 1990s two SR-71 Blackbird aircraft were used by NASA as testbeds for high-speed and high-altitude aeronautical research at Dryden. The aircraft included an SR-71A and SR-71B (the trainer version), loaned to NASA by the U.S. Air Force.
SR-71 activities at Dryden were part of NASA's overall high-speed aeronautical research program and involved other NASA research centers, other government agencies, universities and commercial firms. Data from the SR-71 research program will aid designers of future supersonic/hypersonic aircraft and propulsion systems.
One of the first major experiments flown on the NASA SR-71 involved a laser air-data sensor. The sensor used laser light instead of air pressure to generate airspeed and attitude data such as angle-of-attack and sideslip, data normally obtained with small tubes and vanes extending into the airstream or from tubes with flush openings on an aircraft's outer skin. These flights also provided information on the presence of atmospheric particles at altitudes above 80,000 feet, where future hypersonic aircraft will operate. The system used six sheets of laser light projected from the bottom of the airplane. As microscopic-size atmospheric particles passed between the two beams, direction and speed were measured and processed into standard speed and attitude references. An earlier laser air-data measurement system was successfully tested at Dryden on a modified F-l04 testbed aircraft.
The first of a series of flights using the SR-71 as a science camera platform for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., was flown in March 1993. From the nose bay of the aircraft, an upward-facing ultraviolet video camera recorded data on celestial objects in wavelengths blocked to ground-based astronomers by Earth's atmosphere. In another project, researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles used the SR-71 to investigate the use of charged chlorine atoms to protect and rebuild the ozone layer.
As part of NASA's commercialization assistance program, the SR-71 served as a testbed in development of a commercial satellite-based, instant wireless personal communications network, called IRIDIUM. The IRIDIUM system was developed by Motorola's Satellite Communications Division and during developmental testing, the SR-71 acted as a surrogate satellite for transmitters and receivers on the ground.
Because of its high-speed capabilities, scientists used the SR-71 in a program to study ways of reducing sonic boom overpressures that are heard on the ground much like sharp thunderclaps by aircraft exceeding the speed of sound. Aircraft designers have used data from the study in efforts to reduce the "peak" of sonic booms and minimize the 'startle effect' they produce on the ground.
In 1997 and 1998 the SR-71 carried the NASA/Lockheed Martin Linear Aerospike SR-71 - or LASRE - experiment. The LASRE test apparatus was a half-span scale model of a lifting body with eight thrust cells of a linear aerospike engine, mounted on the back of an SR-71 aircraft during flight at high speeds and altitudes. Outfitted with the test fixture, the aircraft operated like a kind of flying wind tunnel that allowed engineers to gather aerodynamic data under realistic flight conditions.
By the time the Air Force loaned the two SR-71s to Dryden the center already had a decade of past experience with the Blackbirds. Three of the aircraft were flown at the facility between December 1969 and November 1979 in a joint NASA/Air Force program aimed at learning more about the capabilities and limitations of high-speed, high-altitude flight. The first two were YF-12A prototypes of a planned interceptor aircraft based on the initial A-12 design that ultimately evolved into the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft. While plans were under way to add another aircraft to the fleet, one YF-12A was lost in a non-fatal mishap in 1971. The third aircraft, an SR-71A that was given the designation YF-12C for administrative purposes, soon took its place.