Imagine a plane that could travel at three times the speed of sound. That’s 1,030 meters every second or 1.03 kilometers (.65 miles)! The United States Air Force developed just such an aircraft. It needed no defenses against a missile, because it only needed to outrun it!
This plane was the SR-71 Blackbird. It was a reconnaissance aircraft, designed to spy on enemy territory. Flying at three times the speed of sound and at an altitude of 80,000 feet (24,384 meters), it was practically undetectable.
The SR-71 Blackbird was used from 1964 – 1999 and 32 were built. 12 were lost, but none were destroyed by enemy forces. They served an important role, gathering information during the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese fired about 800 surface-to-air missiles at them, but none found their targets.
When the Blackbird was decommissioned, it had flown 11,008 on 17,300 missions. In total, it flew 53,490 hours. It spent 11,675 hours traveling at three times the speed of sound.
When the Air Force announced its intention to retire the SR-71 in 1990, Lt. Col. Raymond E. Yeilding and Lt. Col. Joseph T. Vida set out to break four new speed records on its final flight. They flew from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., Kansas City to Washington D.C., St Louis to Cincinnati, and from the west coast of the United States to the east. In the last flight, they flew at an average speed of 2,404 miles (3,869 kilometers) in 67 minutes and 54 seconds.
In 1995 the SR-71 was bought back into service. In October 1999 it made its last flight before being retired for good. Some Blackbirds are preserved in museums.