Lockheed Put The Strategic in Strategic Reconnaissance With These Aircraft
The proverbial top-secret black cat was well out of the bag when Lockheed produced their promotional film “The Blackbirds Are Flying.” The YF-12A, SR-71A, and SR-71B made up the family of Blackbirds depicted in the film. The film touches on many of the special materials, equipment, and crew requirements the Air Force Flight Test Center and the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing had to consider when operating these Mach 3+-capable jets. Enjoy the film uploaded to YouTube by Periscope Film.
Those Precious Few
The Blackbirds served with the US Air Force from 1964 until 1998, although only a few jets were still operational after 1989. NASA operated a few of them for another year, finally retiring them in 1999. Lockheed’s famed Skunk Works turned out only 32 of them. Operational accidents claimed 12 of them, but to its credit although they were commonly flown over hostile territory and came under fire on many of those flights, none were ever lost due to enemy action.
Impressive Even Now
The SR-71A was the main production variant. The SR-71B was a trainer variant. After the crash of one of the two two-seat SR-71B trainers, the single SR-71C was pieced together from two partial airframes to provide a second pilot training jet. Blackbird stats throughout the life of the program come out to 11,008 mission flight hours (2,752 of them at Mach 3+) during 3,551 mission sorties flown. Blackbirds flew a total of 53,490 flight hours (11,675 of them at Mach3+) over 17,300 total sorties flown.