Military Aviation

SR-71 Pilot explains why even though the Blackbird could attain Mach 3.5, at that speed serious damage to the aircraft might occur

‘The SR-71 could attain Mach 3.5, but the aircraft would be in an untested and prohibited area outside of its flight envelope, and serious damage to the aircraft might occur,’ Bredette BC Thomas, high-time SR-71 Blackbird pilot.

CLICK HERE to buy unique SR-71 Blackbird T-Shirts!

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.

No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated in more hostile airspace or with such complete impunity than the SR-71 Blackbird. It is the fastest aircraft propelled by air-breathing engines. The Blackbird’s performance and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technology developments during the Cold War.

The Blackbird was designed to cruise at “Mach 3+,” just over three times the speed of sound or more than 2,200 miles per hour and at altitudes up to 85,000 feet.

Now when talking about SR-71 probably the most frequently asked Blackbird question is-how fast does it really fly?

‘Our maximum speed limit, directed by the Flight Manual, was Mach 3.3, but the SR-71 was not power-limited, so it could fly faster,’ Bredette BC Thomas, high-time SR-71 Blackbird pilot, says on Quora.

‘However, doing so would exceed the compressor inlet temperature limit, as well as other limits both heat related and structural. I am certain that no pilot ever put both throttles in maximum afterburner and let the aircraft accelerate to see how fast it would go. That would be a violation of military orders, the flight manual restrictions, and common sense. I, and most probably all other pilots, never purposely violated any published limits while flying the SR-71.

‘The SR-71 could attain Mach 3.5, but the aircraft would be in an untested and prohibited area outside of its flight envelope, and serious damage to the aircraft might occur. The SR-71 was point-designed to cruise continuously at Mach 3.2, which is quite an achievement, but it was not intended to have a lot of margin above that speed.

‘I know of no time when the SR-71 was flown above Mach 3.33, and I doubt that one was flown faster, except by accidental error.’

Thomas went on explaining why the SR-71 Blackbird’s throttle was never pushed to the limit, even during the aircraft final flight;

‘There may be a misunderstanding concerning the role of a test pilot. His/her job is to consult with flight test engineers, fly a test mission according to an agreed-upon plan, and terminate a test point when something unpredicted and/or dangerous is found. Land, then determine what to test next.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 “Skunkworks”

‘That is how the flight envelope is established. After the limits are published, they cannot, under normal operations, be exceeded intentionally. No serious, professional pilot will defy the published limits of an aircraft.’

Thomas concludes;

‘For military pilots, intentionally exceeding aircraft limits also violates military orders and the pilot would be subject to disciplinary punishment. Military flying is not meant to be experimentation, except for well-planned test projects.’

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 SR-71 and Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

This model is available from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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.

Recent Posts

89th Airlift Wing Pilot tells why Gold Medal Enriched Flour was used to remove Scuff Marks of the VC-137C Air Force One

The Boeing 707 Although not the first jet powered airliner, the Boeing 707 is easily… Read More

6 hours ago

A rare sight: Brazilian Navy A-4 Skyhawk conducting a Wave-off Over the George Washington aircraft carrier

Brazilian Navy A-4 Skyhawk conducting a Wave-off Over the George Washington Taken on May 19,… Read More

7 hours ago

The story of the B-1R Regional bomber, the Mach 2.2 Lancer powered by F-22’s F119 engines that never was

The Bone Nicknamed “The Bone,” the B-1B Lancer is a long-range, multi-mission, supersonic conventional bomber, which has… Read More

21 hours ago

US Navy A-4 pilot recalls when a WWI biplane made a simulated attack on his Skyhawk reaching a guns-tracking position only a few feet away from his A-4

World War I aircraft World War I witnessed unprecedented growth and innovation in aircraft design,… Read More

1 day ago

USAF releases first official photos of B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight

First official photos of B-21 Raider stealth bomber in flight Taken at Edwards Air Force… Read More

2 days ago