The SR-71 “Blackbird” is one of the most incredible machines ever created by man. Between 1964 and 1998 thousands of reconnaissance missions were flown in SR-71s, sometimes as often as once per week. Why not more? The mission recovery for these planes was lengthy. Aircraft would often return to base missing rivets, panels, and various other parts. The price of speed is often high.

Just getting the plane into the air was a complicated task. It required a special fuel (TEB, which ignites as soon as it touches air.) to light the engines. It could only take off with its tanks half full, so it had to refuel immediately. Because of the SR-71’s relatively high minimum speed, special refueling planes were needed, as well as a new fueling arm design.

The “Blackbird” was more than a powerhouse, though. It was full of advanced technology. For example: navigation. Today, we all have a navigation device in our pockets that uses a mix of satellites and cell towers to determine where we are. That didn’t exist back in the ‘60s. Remember, this was the era of pay phones and carburetors. Not in the SR. It had a special camera on board that could see stars in day or night. That camera sent images to an onboard computer, which compared them to a database of celestial navigation data. Using all that information the computer could determine the plane’s altitude, direction, and even automatically navigate it to preset destination points.

And it was fast. How fast? Click play to find out.

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Click here to watch the another episode of APEX:60 about the supersonic Concorde. 

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Footage: Lockheed Martin