The Fastest Air-Breathing Manned Aircraft Ever Built
In 1960, Francis Gary Powers was flying in a U-2 Dragon Lady while high above the USSR conducting a reconnaissance mission for the United States. Unfortunately for him, he was effectively shot down by the USSR's advanced anti-air systems and was put on a very public trial.
The U-2's technology was seized and stolen from the crash site. The United States needed a new reconnaissance aircraft, so the pentagon turned to Lockheed Martin. Then, the legend herself was born... the SR-71 Blackbird.
The SR-71 Blackbird, a mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft, is currently is foreseen to always hold the record of the fastest and highest flying manned aircraft in history. Created by the legendary aircraft designer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson from Lockheed Martin's infamous Skunkworks Division using only paper, pencil & protractors; the SR-71 Blackbird was beyond technologically inclined for even today and was a masterpiece of aviation engineering.
The fastest the Blackbird is officially recorded to have gone is a stunning mach 3.5 (2685.44 Mp/H or 4321.8 Kp/H) and it was achieved when SR-71 pilot Brian Shul was evading a missile over Libya on April 15th, 1986 while locating targets for the US to bomb.
To give you a sense of how truly fast this plane is, it set a world record of flying coast to coast across the United States in a time of 1 hour, 4 minutes and 20 seconds and if you do the math, the SR-71 could fly across the entire world once in 9 hours and 2 minutes.
The Blackbird would go on to enjoy much success. Most Blackbirds were not armed (The YF-12 Blackbird was) as any room on-board was used for all of her reconnaissance equipment. So in order to defend itself when being chased and fired at, she would simply just go faster.
Now, the SR-71 Blackbird did have a very lethal enemy that did successfully bring it down more than once. Itself. The SR-71 has had many accidents. It has crashed a few times, there was an incident where two Blackbirds accidentally crashed into each other mid-flight and there was even an incident where a Blackbird disintegrated around a pilot into dust. You may click here to view an archive of Blackbird loss statistics and information.
There were quite a few variants of the SR-71. There's an armed variant, the CIA's variant, a double-seater trainer variant, the US Air Force's variant, NASA's variant that was used for testing all kinds of stuff and there was even a variant of the Blackbird that had it's own drone! (The D-21)
The SR-71 Blackbird entered service on December 22nd 1966 but sadly due to politics, was forced into retirement in 1990. It was still kept in operation however and reactivated in 1995 and remained in service until 1998. NASA's own SR-71 was retired on October 9th of 1999, having been bought and used by NASA since 1991.
Enjoying a total of 32.8 years of honorable military and civilian service, 53,490 flight hours, 11,675 Mach 3 flight hours, having been all around the world and never losing in action, the SR-71 Blackbird is truly a special aircraft that we all have come to love and respect. May she enjoy her retirement in peace, cheers.