TECH TRENDS: The Fastest Plane on Earth
Since 1976, the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird has held the world record for the fastest ‘air-breathing manned aircraft’ with a recorded speed of 1,905.81 knots (2,193.2 mph; 3,529.6 km/h). That works out to a staggering 36.55 miles/58.83 km per minute.
The Blackbird was so fast that its strategy against surface-to-air missiles was to simply accelerate and outfly them.
The SR-71 served with the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998. Of the 32 aircraft built, 12 were lost in accidents, though none to enemy action. Since 1976, it has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft.
The Blackbird was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by the Lockheed Skunk Works. Clarence “Kelly” Johnson was the lead designer and was responsible for many of the design’s innovative concepts.
The SR-71 was designed for Mach 3+ flights (1020.87m/3349.31 ft per second) with a crew of two in tandem cockpits, with the pilot in the forward cockpit and the Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO) monitoring the surveillance systems and equipment from the behind cockpit.
Finished aircraft were painted a dark blue, almost black, to increase the emission of internal heat and to act as camouflage against the night sky. The dark colour led to the aircraft’s call sign “Blackbird”.
On most aircraft, use of titanium was limited by the costs involved in procurement and manufacture. It was generally used only in components exposed to the highest temperatures, such as exhaust fairings and the leading edges of wings. On the SR-71, titanium was used for 85% of the structure, with the rest made of composite materials.