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- Type: SPH
- Class: aircraft
- Part Count: 74
- Mods: 8
Summary: Mach 3+ strategic reconniasance aircraft operated by the United Sates Airforce from 1986-1998. Designed for high-speed and high altitude, the SR-71 was also designed with reduced radar cross-section; early stealth capability.
Blackbird was based on the similar, lighter Lockheed A-12
Oxcart developed for the the CIA as a partial replacement for the trusty U-2 spyplane. 32 Blackbirds were built, serving with USAF from 1964 to 1998, and still hold the record for fastest air-breathing manned aircraft.
- B9 Aerospace Parts Pack
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- Mk2 Stockalike Expansion
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- Squad (stock)
- TweakScale - Rescale Everything!
The design of the SR-71 and its A-12 cousin came from Lockheed’s cutting edge Skunk-Works unit in Burbank, California, led by Lockheed legend - designer of the P38 Lightning (see model) and U-2 Spyplane (see model) , Clarence
Kelly Johnson. Work began in 1958, and by 1960, a dozen A12 spyplanes were in production. The downing of Francis Gary Powers' U-2 in 1960 highlighted the U-2’s vulnerability - a faster spy plane capable of out-running air-to-air missiles was desperately needed.
The first A-12 flew from Area-51 in April 1962, and served the CIA, conducting spy missions over Vietnam and North Korea, before its retirement in 1968. Impressed with the A-12, USAF commissioned a variant of it in December 1962, which became the SR-71
Blackbird. It was longer and heavier than the A-12, capable of carrying more fuel, and could carry two crew. Reconnaisance equipment included signals intelligence sensors, side-looking airborne radar, and a photo camera. 32 SR-71s were produced, before cancellation of the plane’s official cover programme (the F-12 interceptor) led to the specialised tooling for its manufacture being destroyed.
The SR-71 was designed for flight at over Mach 3, with a crew of two in tandem cockpits, with the pilot ahead, and the Reconnaisance Systems Officer operating the spy equipment in the rear cockpit, as well as handling navigation.
The dark blue-black paint scheme was designed to act as camouflage against the night’s sky, help with emission of heat buildup during high-speed dashes, and absorb radar signals.
The SR-71 carried radar countermeasures and was designed to minimise radar-cross section, but nevertheless was mainly protected by its high ceiling and very high speed. By the time SAM sites could track the SR-71, it would typically be out of firing range. Soviet SAMs would expend almost all their Delta-V attempting to reach the SR-71’s altitude and then have little left to chase it, allowing the SR-71 to easily get away. This plane was also faster than the Soviet Union’s fastest interceptor, the MiG-25, which could also not reach its altitude. As a result, no SR-71 was ever shot down.
Flying at above 80,000 ft, it was necessary that pilots be equipped with pressurised space-suits. The atmospheric heating from friction cruising at Mach 3.2 would heat the aircraft’s external surface to 260'C, and the inside of the windshield to 120'C. Heavy duty cooling systems, heat exchangers and air conditioning were therefore required to keep the cockpits, and landing-gear bay cool.
First flown in December 1964, the SR-71 reached Mach 3.4 during testing, with Mach 3.5 later reportedly achieved while evading a missile over Libya. The SR-71 entered service in January 1966.
Due to the considerable maintainance requirments, each SR-71 could be flown, on average, about once per week. The aircraft would often return with rivets missing, delaminated panels or other broken parts requiring repair and replacement. This was largely due to conformational change caused by the huge variation in temperature experienced by all parts of the aircraft during typical use. From 1968 to 1970, the SR-71 fleet averaged one sortie per week. By 1970, they were flying two sorties per week, and by 1972, nearly one sortie per day. Two SR-71s were lost, in 1970 and 1972 respectively, both due to mechanical failure.
During the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese made approximately 800 attempts to down SR-71s with surface-to-air missiles, with not one missile managing to hit.
The SR-71 was nearly retired in 1989 for reasons of cost, but was eventually withdrawn from service in 1990s to save money, with the fleet put into storage. This was largely due to increased advocacy for spending on other strategic projects, particularly the expensive B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The SR-71 also lost support in the Air Force, as the
product of its work - detailed intelligence information from enemy territory, was primarily of use to other services like the CIA, NSA and DIA rather than USAF itself.
Although the SR-71 was more capable than the Lockheed U-2 (see model) in terms of range, speed, and survivability, it lacked a datalink which the U-2 had been upgraded to carry. This meant intelligence could not be used in real-time, but had to be uploaded once the SR-71 had returned to base. Efforts to undertake the relatively straightforward task of fitting a datalink to the SR-71 were blocked by politicians already set on the program’s demise. As such the SR-71 went into retirement while the less sophisticated, and much older U-2 spyplane endured.
The retirement of the SR-71 was to be greatly regretted only 4 months later, when Operation Desert Storm required expedited reconnaissance information which was no longer within USAF’s capabilities.
Three SR-71s were reactivated in 1994-5, when it became apparent that no suitable successor would be developed in time to plug the significant capability gap left by its original retirement. The trio were modified with a data-link to provide near-real-time transmission of intelligence and imagery, and served until 1999. The reactication, and then re-retirement of the SR-71 was highly controversial and subject to considerable political wrangling.
NASA operated two airworthy Blackbirds until 1999, and these two remain at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre. All others are now in museums.
During it’s life, the SR-71 was the fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft ever flown, with an absolute altitude record of 85,069ft (sustained flight), and an absolute speed record of 2,193mph / Mach 3.3. (Although one pilot claims to have flown in excess of Mach 3.5).
Today, the USA’s need for high quality strategic reconnaissance and intelligence is provided by a range of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellite telemetry, although, noting that the SR-71 was a secret for most of its active life, some believe that newer manned stealth planes of equivalent role may have succeeded it.
Model info: A mod aircraft called Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Built with 74 parts, closely to scale, and using appropriate systems, weapons and colour scheme wherever possible. Built in the SPH in KSP version 1.1.3.
AedsPlanes are replicas of historic aircraft built as accurately as possible, and usually to 1:1 scale. Enjoy the experience of being a real Kerbal Airforce pilot!
(For added immersion, install flag mod World Aircraft Insignia by ChaseAEd and add real airforce roundels to your planes).
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