The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is the world’s fastest jet aircraft, achieving speeds of Mach 3.3–more than 3,500 kph (2,100 mph) and over four times the typical cruising speed of a commercial airliner.
The unusual engine inlets—a duct where air is introduced into the engine—are significantly responsible for the aircraft’s speed and agility. Air is reduced to subsonic rates before entering the SR-71’s jet engines to manage the extreme variations in speed and pressure.
The exhaust from the jet engines of the SR-71 forms a diamond pattern. This is because of the additional thrust produced by its supersonic afterburner. This results in a series of shock waves that form the diamond pattern. Except when refueling, the SR-71 engines operate in afterburner mode continuously.
Flying at speeds greater than three times the speed of sound necessitates the aircraft’s ability to resist heat. The SR-71 generates temperatures of 316° C (600° F) on its external surfaces, which are hot enough to melt typical aluminum airframes.
As a result, the SR-71’s external skin is comprised of titanium alloy, which protects the inside aluminum airframe.
The tires, which retract into the wings during flight, must also remain cool.
Latex was combined with metal and filled with nitrogen to make the tires. The SR-71’s tire pressure was 415 psi, which is 10 times more than the normal set of vehicle tires.
During the Cold War, the SR-71 was employed to gather intelligence for the US military due to its capacity to fly at high speeds and altitudes. In just one hour, the aircraft could scan up to 160,934 square kilometers (100,000 square miles) of terrain. Its stealthy design also lowered the likelihood of it being spotted on radar.
During missions aboard the SR-71, pilots had to wear special pressure suits that were basically modified spacesuits since they flew so high.
“Powerful acceleration pressed you against the seat during takeoff,” said Museum docent and former SR-71 pilot Buz Carpenter. The more quickly you flew, the more sensitive the aircraft got, necessitating greater concentration and care.”
While the skunk emblem on the SR-71’s tail didn’t help it attain top speeds, it is an interesting element of the aircraft’s history.
The little skunk is the official logo of Lockheed’s secret projects factory, known colloquially as “Skunk Works.” The Lockheed factory was located next to an industrial plastics company, which emitted a foul stench, hence the moniker.