SR-71... or RS-71? How the legendary Blackbird got her designation

Blackbird final landing: Emotional video shows SR-71A arriving at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

By Dario Leone
Jun 19 2019
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On Mar. 21, 1968 in this aircraft, Maj. (later Gen.) Jerome F. O’Malley and Maj. Edward D. Payne made the first operational SR-71A sortie.

Taken in March 1990 the emotional video in this post shows the arrival of the iconic SR-71A Blackbird at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. During its career, this aircraft accumulated 2,981 flying hours and flew 942 total sorties (more than any other SR-71), including 257 operational missions, from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., Palmdale, Calif., Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, and RAF (Base), Mildenhall, England.

Emotional video shows SR-71 Blackbird final landing at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
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Moreover on Mar. 21, 1968 in this aircraft, Maj. (later Gen.) Jerome F. O’Malley and Maj. Edward D. Payne made the first operational SR-71 sortie.

Emotional video shows SR-71 Blackbird final landing at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
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The SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” is a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft. The first flight of an SR-71 took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in January 1966.

Despite the aircraft’s incredible flight characteristics, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) retired its fleet of SR-71s on Jan. 26, 1990, because of a decreasing defense budget, high costs of operation and availability of sophisticated spy satellites.

Noteworthy Blackbird operations, except training flights, were officially terminated in November 1989, having been eliminated from the FY1990 Defense Department budget.

On Mar. 6, 1990, one Blackbird famously set a series of world speed records on its ‘retirement flight.’ The SR-71 with tail number 64-17972 was flown from California to the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum (NASM) Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, where it would eventually go on display. In the process, it set the official National Aeronautic Association coast-to-coast speed record of 2,086 miles in one hour and seven minutes, averaging 2,124.5 mph. It made the 311-mile St. Louis-to-Cincinnati leg in less than nine minutes, averaging 2,176.08 mph.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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  1. gfansher1976 says:

    That video is from the landing at Wright-Patt AFB in Dayton Ohio

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