After an A-12 flight specks of insects hoisted from the atomic test explosions in Russia and China were found on the Oxcart windshield

Former USAF Master Sergeant reveals the Fastest Speed ever Recorded by a Lockheed Blackbird

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Apr 8 2023
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A-12 pilot Jim Eastham dropped the nose down a bit to see if he could at least reach Mach 3.0. Out of nowhere, Jim hit good air and in the dive with good air he red lined everything.

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The A-12 Oxcart Mach 3 spy plane unique design and characteristics became the foundation for three other versions of supersonic aircraft that Lockheed built for CIA and the USAF: the YF-12A, the M-21, and the SR-71.

In October 1962, the USAF ordered the development of dedicated variant of the Oxcart to replace the cancelled F-108A Rapier. The modified A-12, first designated the AF-12 and then the YF-12A. Only three YF-12As were built and delivered during 1963-64.

According to The SR-71 Blackbird website, in the same month and in the same year, CIA authorized the Skunk Works to study the feasibility of modifying the A-12 to carry and deploy a reconnaissance drone for unmanned overflight of denied areas. The project was codenamed TAGBOARD. The mother ship, redesignated the M-21 to avoid confusion with the A-12, was fitted with a second seat for a launch control officer (LCO) for the drone, called the D 21. But since on the fourth TAGBOARD test on Jul. 30, 1966, a launch mishap caused the mother ship to crash, killing LCO Ray Torick, Kelly Johnson ended the program.

However, the best known version of the A-12 (right) is the SR 71 Blackbird (left), whose nickname has become eponymous with the entire set of Oxcart variants. With the added weight, the aircraft flew slower and lower than the A-12 or the YF-12A, but it carried more fuel and had a longer range.

When talking about the Lockheed Blackbird family probably the most frequently asked Blackbird question is-how how fast does it really fly?

“I’ve answered this question before, but here goes,” says Jim Goodall, former Master Sergeant at U.S. Air Force and author of the book Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird: The Illustrated History of America’s Legendary Mach 3 Spy Plane. “The fastest an SR-71A has ever gone is Mach 3.43 in 974 [Blackbird #61-17974, better known as “Ichi-Ban”], at the time, a Site II bird. It blew out both inlets as it had a dual unstart.”

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Goodall continues.

“Ben Rich told me that the inlets were designed to fly at its “Sweet Spot” of Mach 3.24. All manned Blackbirds from the A-12 through to the last SR-71 built were and designed to all fly at the same top speed.

“But during early flight testing at Area 51 with the A-12s, Jim Eastham told me that A-12 #128 flew as fast as any A-12 during testing. On the particular day that the A-12 red lined everything.

“During a routine top speed envelope expansion flight, A-12 #128 was having a hard time getting past Mach 2.7 as the outside air was too warm. The reason for the flight test card that day was to validate a new inlet bypass door schedule.

“Jim said he dropped the nose down a bit to see if he could at least reach Mach 3.0. Out of nowhere, Jim hit good air and in the dive with good air he red lined everything. He went into his descent profile and headed back to the test site.”

Goodall concludes:

“When all was said and done; and for a very brief 15 seconds, Jim hit Mach 3.56, or just under 2,400 mph. Mind you, this was a one-time event and was never duplicated.”

Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Facebook Pages Habubrats and Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

Photo credit: Dru Blair via www.drublair.com

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Linda Sheffield Miller

Linda Sheffield Miller

Grew up at Beale Air Force Base, California. I am a Habubrat. Graduated from North Dakota State University. Former Public School Substitute Teacher, (all subjects all grades). Member of the DAR (Daughters of the Revolutionary War). I am interested in History, especially the history of SR-71. Married, Mother of three wonderful daughters and four extremely handsome grandsons. I live near Washington, DC.

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