SR-71 Top Speed

The slowest speed ever recorded by a Lockheed Blackbird

When talking about the “Blackbird family” probably the most frequently asked Blackbird question is-how high and how fast does it really fly? But what about the slowest speed ever recorded by a Blackbird?

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.

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

As you may remember we already answered this question HERE and HERE.

But what about the slowest speed ever recorded by a Blackbird?

‘I was flying the SR-71 out of RAF Mildenhall, England, with my backseater, Walt Watson. We were returning from a mission over Europe and the Iron Curtain when we received a radio transmission from home base,’ remembers Brian Shul, former SR-71 Blackbird pilot, in his book Sled Driver.

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

Rex Lowe, former USAF Staff Sergeant, explains what happened later on Quora.

‘The aircrew was asked to make a low level pass of a British airfield where cadets were training. Having difficulty actually sighting the field, though navigation was dead on, the pilot, Brian Shul, realized the aircraft was below advertised flying airspeed, he lit the burners and darted off. The backseater later indicated slow speed of 155 knots, pilot saw 152 knots or 175 mph. The aircraft at that point was gently floating down, control certainly would have been lost completely had not Shul firewalled the throttles.’

This is probably the slowest speed ever flown by a Lockheed Blackbird.

However, after landing Shul and Watson were met by their commander.

Shul remembers;

‘We were both certain he was reaching for our wings. Instead, he heartily shook our hands and said the commander had told him it was the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen, especially how we had surprised them with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as breathtaking. […]Walt and I both understood the concept of “breathtaking” very well that morning and sheepishly replied that they were just excited to see our low approach.’

Photo credit: courtesy of Robin Harbour

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

View Comments

  • This pic is from RAF Greenham Common in the 80's during the womens peace camps. They snuck on base and threw paint on it. After it was washed off, later the pilot made a low pass over their camp as sort of a personal goodbye.

    • Do you have any further details on this story? We could write an article on it and quoting you ;-)

  • July/August 1975, vacation kayaking on Lake Constance, West German/Swiss border sighted an SR-71 moving incredibly slowly over the lake, in daylight.

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