Air Force 1 AF10088D USAF Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird Reconnaissance Aircraft - 61-7976, "Snarling Cat", 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, Beale Air Force Base, California (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 29th, 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 18th, 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".
Pictured here is a 1:72 scale replica of a USAF Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft that was nicknamed "Snarling Cat".
Release Date: August 2018
Historical Account: "When Titans Soar" - In July 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced the development of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird strategic reconnaissance aircraft. This new and advanced aircraft would give SAC a reconnaissance capability that far exceeded any then available in terms of speed, altitude, and increased area coverage. In December 1964, the Department of Defense announced that the 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing would activate at Beale Air Force Base, California on January 1st, 1965, as the parent unit of the SR‑71. To prepare Beale AFB for its new mission, contractors lengthened the runway, remodeled the former Air Defense Command Semi-Automatic Ground Environment building, and constructed several new facilities, including 337 additional housing units. The wing was assigned to the 14th Strategic Aerospace Division and consisted of the 4201st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron, three maintenance squadrons and the 4203d Reconnaissance Technical Squadron.
In January 1966, the first SR-71 touched down on the Beale runway. The first T-38 Talon, a Northrop-built aircraft to be used as a trainer and chase plane for the SR-71, had arrived six months earlier. In October 1965, Fifteenth Air Force suggested the 9th Bombardment Wing be redesignated as the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing to continue the history of the 9th. The Air Force accepted the suggestion and on June 25th, 1966, the 4200th wing and its components were discontinued and the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing transferred to Beale to take its place. The Air Force also activated the 9th Reconnaissance Technical Squadron to replace the 4203d Reconnaissance Technical Squadron. Both the 1st and 99th squadrons moved with the 9th, while the 5th inactivated.
For the remainder of 1966, the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing developed the organization and infrastructure necessary for SR-71 operations. The wing included a Director of Intelligence and a Director of Tests, who monitored the exhaustive testing program in the primary stages. The wing also needed its own supply squadron to handle the specialized supplies and equipment this unique aircraft would need. When the 9th SRW passed the Maintenance Standardization and Evaluation Team (MSET) inspection in March 1967, with the highest rating ever given a SAC wing, wing leaders knew their unit was ready.