If there was one plane that stood out from the others and had been the incentive for the future of military aircraft, it is the SR-71 Blackbird.
This spectacular aircraft was a cousin to the YF12A prototype interceptor to replace the older F-106 Delta Dart. Initially, the Air Force contracted North American to develop its next generation plane, the F-108. A mach-3 aircraft that never left the ground, due to cancellation in 1959.
The Air Force instead embarked on Lockheed’s Skunk Works program, (Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Development Project) to build its next generation plane, where work was currently underway developing a top secret spy plane called the A-12.
The head of Skunk Works, Kelly Johnson agreed to build a fighter aircraft for the Air Force by modifying the A-12 version. It was labeled AF-12 and the USAF purchased three of them in the mid 1960s.
The primary difference between the A-12 and the AF-12 was by modifying the A-12’s nose by removing the chines in order to accommodate the Hughes AN/ASG-18 fire-control radar, which was originally developed for the XF-108.
In addition, a second cockpit for a crew member to operate the fire control radar for the air-to-air missile system was developed. These modifications resulted in a major change in the aircraft’s overall design from the specifications of the XF-108.
Specifically, its aerodynamics required ventral fins to be mounted under the fuselage and engine nacelles to maintain stability. The four bays previously used to house the A-12’s reconnaissance equipment were converted to carry the Hughes AIM-47 Falcon (GAR-9) missiles, with one bay used for fire control equipment; hence, the futuristic design of the Blackbird was materializing.
Enter the YF-12A. A prototype fighter that was an offset of the A-12. It had its first flying mission on August 7th, 1963. The aircraft was kept top secret until President Johnson announced its existence on February 24th, 1964. The YF-12A was cleverly announced to continue keeping the existence of the A-1, which was still in the pre-production phase a secret.
Some of the sightings of the A-12 from the top secret Area 51 was attributed to the YF-12A to camouflage the A-12’s secret as it flew in the area.
The YF-12A continued in its development; however, due to accidents and malfunctions, the three YF-12A aircrafts that were built, two were destroyed and the third was sent to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio on 17 November 1979.
Publicity of the YF-12A was kept intact in order to keep the CIA top secret A-12 variant (the SR-71) from becoming public.
The SR-71 maintained such advanced technology, it became the precursor to the stealth aircraft we see today and instead of it being an interceptor, it was used for aerial reconnaissance missions. It operated at such high speeds (mach-3) and altitudes (80,000 feet), it would actually be able to evade incoming anti-aircraft missiles by just flying faster. It was known to fly faster than a bullet.
In addition, the SR-71 was designed with basic stealth technology, which served as the forerunner to future stealth aircraft, such as the B-17 and B-2 stealth bomber.
Much of the SR-71’s history is still kept secret, especially its stealth technology, but in 1974, during the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war, an aircraft was seen over the skies of Egypt flying faster and higher than any other known aircraft and this aircraft was the SR-71.
The plane served the Air Force from 1964 to 1998. A total of 32 were built. 12 were lost in accidents, but with none lost in any war..
The SR-71 has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft since 1976, which was previously held by its YF-12A cousin.
The elegant design of the SR-71 is magnificent, but it is the sophistication of this aircraft that, to this day, a machine of the future and we are dedicated to Lockheed and the United States Air Force for their ingenuity and foresight in designing a plane of such magnitude.