NASA Just Dropped A Ton Of Rare Footage Of Blackbirds Doing What They Do Best

Gear
The original trio of SR-71 "Blackbirds" loaned to NASA by the U.S. Air Force for high-speed, high-altitude research line the ramp at the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California.
Photo via DoD/NASA

The long-range SR-71 Blackbird recon jet, dreamed up by Lockheed Martin’s famed Skunk Works division, has a reputation for a reason.


In the half-century since it first took flight at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, the Blackbird has unseated its record-setting Lockheed YF-12 predecessor as the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft, its twin afterburners capable of unleashing 34,000 pounds of thrust and accelerating the interceptor up to 35 miles per minute — 3,100 feet per second, per War Zone’s Tyler Rogoway. No wonder the SR-71 became the preferred delivery craft for specially trained and colorfully attired multinational paramilitary squads: Of all the aircraft ever conceived by the U.S. Air Force, the Blackbird is most synonymous with speed.

Luckily, you can now spend all day watching the SR-71 and the YF-12 scream across anonymous skies, if you so desire. Over the weekend, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center decided to crack open its vault and publish archival footage from decades of flight tests at Dryden/Edwards Air Force Base on its YouTube channel.

While the cache of hundreds of videos includes some random gems (like the landing of an ill-fated horned XB-70A Valkyrie), our favorite SR-71 fanboy, Rogoway, surfaced a handful of fantastic clips of two Blackbirds stretching their wings over southern California. Let’s take a gander, shall we?

Taxi and Takeoff

On the 51st birthday of the SR-71, Rogoway noted at Foxtrot Alpha that the “official” Blackbird ceiling was around 85,000 feet — nowhere near the Kármán line that separates Earth and outer space at 330,000, but close and stuff!

Mid-Air Refueling:

*Cues Barry White soundtrack*

Pilot Training and Aerodynamic Heating Experiments:

The test in the first video is no science experiment. Per Rogoway, the SR-71’s titanium skin could reach temperatures as high as 900 degrees Fahrenheit at maximum velocity — hot enough that the aircraft would grow by six inches bow to stern, the most impressive six-inch growth under steamy circumstances in the history of mankind.

Landing

Taking off is easy; landing is far more difficult. Perhaps that’s why 40% of the Blackbird fleet didn’t survive operational tests, per Rogoway. Shame.

Yes, sure, this archival footage won’t keep you occupied all day, but it’s sweet enough to hold us over until Lockheed reveals new details of that proposed ultra-secret SR-72 successor. Until then, there’s always X2:

A military funeral at Fort Jackson National Cemetery in 2014. Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Joel Quebec/U.S. Army

A U.S. soldier died on Friday while in Syria supporting Operation Inherent Resolve, the Defense Department announced on Saturday.

Read More
DoD photo

A word that could once not be mentioned in court — torture — was front and center on Friday as a military tribunal prepares to take on the long-delayed trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the confessed chief plotter of the 9/11 attacks, and four other defendants.

"I know torture's a dirty word," defense attorney Walter Ruiz told the tribunal. "I'll tell you what, judge, I'm not going to sanitize this for their concerns."

Read More

The suspect in the death of 21-year-old U.S. Marine Cpl. Tyler Wallingford, who was fatally shot in the barracks of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort more than nine months ago, was found guilty in military court of involuntary manslaughter earlier this month and sentenced to more than five years.

Read More
U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dylan McKay

A U.S. Navy aircrew has been rescued after their MH-60S helicopter went down into the Philippine Sea on Saturday.

Read More
Photo: Fort Jackson Public Affairs

A 19-year-old Army private who died during basic training earlier this month was posthumously promoted to private first class, just before friends and family gathered for a memorial service to honor his life on Jan. 16.

Read More