Recently saw this Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird in person at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Gorgeous lines on it. More photos/details and a video.

Struck me how it looks like something from the 1940s (in a Tucker kinda way) or modern (like a recent version of the Batmobile) but not like what I think of as a design typical of 1962, the year the plane first flew.

Former Air Force pilot Brian Shul calls it “the most remarkable airplane of the 20th century.” It remains the fastest and highest flying air-breathing production aircraft ever built. if a surface-to-air missile launch was detected, standard evasive action was simply to accelerate. On March 6, 1990, it made its final flight and set a record — Los Angeles to D.C. in 1 hour, 4 minutes.


Interesting story to how it was built too. Flying at over Mach 3 generates some high temperatures. So the plane was made from titanium. But it turns out titanium is a real pain.

Titanium was difficult to work with, expensive, and scarce. Initially, 80% of the titanium delivered to Lockheed was rejected due to metallurgical contamination. One example of the difficulties of working with titanium is that welds made at certain times of the year were more durable than welds made at other times. It was found that the manufacturing plant’s water came from one reservoir in the summer and another in the winter; the slight differences in the impurities in the water from these sources led to differences in the durability of the welds, since water was used to cool the titanium welds.

The titanium being manufactured in the United States in those days lacked the required purity. The only source of purer titanium available was located in the Soviet Union. So, according to the tour guide at the museum, the CIA set up dummy corporations in Europe and bought titanium from the Soviet Union. The Soviets had no idea they were helping the US build an aircraft that would be used to spy on them.

(Fyi, the plane was also the basis for the character Jetfire in “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”)