Which member of the Blackbird family was the faster and which one reached the highest altitude?
The iconic SR-71 Blackbird spy plane is known for being the official record holder for the fastest jet-powered, piloted aircraft of all time.
The SR-71 was based on another Mach 3, high altitude reconnaissance aircraft, the A-12 Oxcart.
Another Blackbird, the YF-12 high-altitude, Mach 3 interceptor was developed from the A-12 to defend against supersonic bombers. The YF-12 was never adopted by the military as an operational aircraft. The YF-12 too was, however, a precursor to the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane.
At this point, one might ask which member of the Blackbird family was the faster and which one reached the highest altitude.
Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer), who runs Habubrats Facebook page, may have some answers.
She explained to The Aviation Geek Club:
“The A-12, also known as Oxcart, altitude and speed are unofficial because the A-12 remained top-secret until 1982. Ken Collins, A-12 pilot and SR -71 pilot [who also flew with Col. Sheffield] has revealed an altitude of 94,000 feet!
“The maximum design cruise speed was Mach 3.2. The speed was limited by structural temperature restrictions.
“The SR-71 flew faster than the rotation of the earth.”
She also listed the fastest known flights:
- YF-12A (60-6936) – Mach 3.14 (2,070 mph), USAF, official, 1 May 1965
- SR-71B (61-7956) – Mach 3.27 (2,158 mph), NASA, unofficial, 14 December 1995 and 4 March 1997
- A-12 (60-6928) – Mach 3.29 (2,171 mph), CIA, unofficial, 8 May 1965
- SR-71A (61-7972) – Mach 3.32 (2,193 mph), USAF, official, 27 July 1976.”
How high could the Blackbirds fly?
“The Blackbirds were designed to fly as high as 90,000 feet, but typically operated between 70,000 and 85,000 feet,” says Linda.
Highest known flights:
- YF-12A (60-6936) – 80,257 feet, USAF, official, 1 May 1965
- SR-71B (61-7956) – 84,700 feet, NASA, unofficial, 18 October 1994
- SR-71A (61-7962) – 85,068 feet, USAF, official, 28 July 1976
- SR-71A (61-7953) – 86,700 feet, USAF, unofficial, circa 1968
- A-12 (60-6932) – 90,000 feet, CIA, unofficial, 14 August 1965
Actually the Blackbird’s incredible speed enabled it to gather intelligence in a matter of a few seconds while streaking across unfriendly skies. Thanks to these astonishing flight characteristics, the Blackbirds have set numerous speed and altitude records during their career.
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin and NASA