Pure Speed!

The world's fastest piloted aircraft first flew on 22 December 1964, at a speed of 2,193 mph, the SR-71 still holds the record as the world's fastest stealth aircraft. Check out the videos below!

SR-71 Blackbird
SR-71 Blackbird

On the first flight, piloted by Bob Gilliland, the SR-71 reached a top speed of Mach 3.4. USAF Pilot, Major Brian Shul, later reported reaching a speed of Mach 3.5 on an operational sortie while evading a missile over Libya.

The SR-71 was developed to be a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance (SR) aircraft capable of reaching speeds over Mach 3. The first flight took place on Dec. 22, 1964. The U.S. Air Force retired its fleet of SR-71s Jan. 26, 1990. A few of the original “Blackbirds” were put back in service from 1995 until January 1997. The aircraft on display at Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum was among them.

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Check out our new SR-71 T-Shirts, and other cool Blackbird/Skunk Works gear !
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The Blackbirds flew for34 years gathering intel from all over the world. Blackbird pilots evaded all 4,000 missiles and it remains the only Air Force aircraft to never lose a crewmember.

The SR-71 was built by Lockheed's Skunk Works. They were contracted to to build a dozen spy planes, named "A-12" on 11 February 1960. Skunk Works built several developmental variations of the SR-71 such as the YF-12A Interceptor, the B-71 Bomber, and the M-21 code-named "Tagboard," to name a few.

The Blackbird was designed to operate at extreme velocities, altitudes and temperatures. The SR-71 was on the leading edge of aeronautical engineering and it was the first aircraft constructed with titanium. That was because the friction created at Mach 2.6 would melt an aluminum frame. Its engineering was so cutting edge that even the tools to build the SR-71 needed to be designed from scratch.

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 First Flight: 1964
Top speed: 2,193 mph
Introduced: January 1966
Manufacturer: Lockheed
Engine type: Pratt & Whitney J58
Number built: 32
Retired: 1999

Come see this historical aircraft in person at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.

12 Comments

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Daniel Cullen

Always a pleasure seeing art and science collaborate . The SR-71 is Magnificent .

Earl Holmes

Always was inspired by the black hawk any formation on it I would always and still do take time to read it.
I am from California and I heard that sonic boom on what I believe it's last flight when it went out over the pacific ocean and headed back east to retirement. That trip I believe was a record breaker as well.

Sam Blackwelder

Hello! I had a question, which may simply be due to my lack of understanding in terms of planes and speed. It is reported that the fastest speed of the SR-71 is 2,193 mph. It is also reported that the fastest speed is Mach 3.5. However, Mach 3.5 is roughly equivalent to 2685 mph, which is significantly higher than the previously reported maximum speed. Is there another factor that is accounted for in one measurement and not the other? How is it that the reported top speeds do not match? Again, I am genuinely curious and would love to learn more about this.

Darbo Long

The SR-71 is among the most beautiful planes of all time. When looked at head-on, however, it sometimes reminds me of Daffy Duck cartoons when Daffy got hit on the head by a brick. Nevertheless, simply walking around this jet in the Evergreen Aviation Museum gives me the chills every time; it's elegance, surface simplicity and effectiveness are legendary. For anyone living in Oregon or southern Washington state, it is worth a trip to Evergreen to see this breath-taking airplane.

I highly recommend reading any biography of "Kelly" Johnson, the design genius behind this awesome plane, as well as several other famous airframes such as the U-2, F-104 Starfighter, P-80 and others. Alternately, read a history of Lockheed's "Skunk Works" to learn how these planes were designed and built in record time and usually under budget.

Geoff

I have read that when it was operational, it set the speed record, but if it was beaten then they would take it up again. So the record wasn’t the top speed of the plane!

Alan Burch

Sam Black Welder even though the aircraft was retired in 1992 the top speed and altitude are still classified as Top Secret. We probably will never know the true capabilities of the aircraft.

General Henry tory Nate Muldrow

Hello

Anonymous

I mean I know this thing is fast, but I'm pretty sure it isn't the fastest: I believe that honor goes to the x-15, the first space plane... It's top recorded speed was about 6.2 mach... But it could only fly for about a minute... You should watch real engineering's video on it, it's pretty incredible...

Anonymous

Nevermind, I think it may have actually been NASA's x-43, at a record speed of around 7,000 mph

Anonymous

Nvm, I'm not sure of the authenticity of my source for the x-43, and the x-15 might not be in the same category as the sr-71, as it's not an air-breathing vessel, using rocket propulsion... The sr-71 is the fastest air-breathing plane... Over all I think I probably shouldn't have commented on this, but I thought there'd be a way to delete my posts...

Jim

Hello Sam Blackwelder
I think I can help you with your question. I think your problem is that you are using the speed of sound at sea level - about 767 mph - to try and calculate the speed in mph at high altitude for 3.5 Mach. The speed of sound in air is not a constant. The speed of sound in air at sea level is a lot faster than the speed of sound at 80,000 ft. Actually the speed of sound is a function of the temperature of the air, not the altitude, and the air temperature is a lot colder at 80,000 ft than it is at sea level. At 80,000 ft the speed of sound is 667 mph, 100 mph less than the speed of sound at sea level.
So at 80,000 ft the speed of an SR-71 in mph that corresponds to 3.5 Mach is actually 2333.438 mph.
Here’s a link to a Mach Number/speed of sound calculator by Aerotoolbox:

https://aerotoolbox.com/airspeed-conversions/

I’m not going to explain how to use it, it’s not difficult, just make sure you enter 80000 in altitude (no comma) and select the proper units for True Airspeed - mph, not kts, (knots).
I personally don’t think that actual highest speed ever achieved by an SR-71 is confidential. The Air Force has released many record speeds for the SR-71 and the YF-12A. These records are speeds certified by official world record timing agencies. But SR-71’s have achieved speeds higher than the records, but not officially timed, that are way faster than the official records. For example, there is an SR-71 at the Smithsonian in Washington DC that on it’s final flight to DC actually hit 2242 mph. That’s 3.36 Mach.
I’m sure every SR-71 pilot has his own highest speed, and everyone is faster than the certified Air Force records.
The fastest speed I have ever seen claimed by an SR-71 pilot is 3.5 Mach - 2333.438 mph - evading a SAM over Libya in 1986. The pilot was Brian Shul who has written books about his experiences flying the SR-71 and has appeared at the Evergreen Museum. Google Brian Shul and you’ll find lots of great links.

Pat Price

I had the pleasure of working up close and personal with these amazing aircraft. I was a crew chief on the KC-135Q tankers that refueled them. Spent a lot of time at altitude just a few feet away. Something I will never forget.

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