SR-71 Blackbird Fragment
SR-71 Blackbird Fragment
This specimen is a metallic fragment from SR-71 61-7956, also known as NASA 831. With 1,454 successful flights and 3,967.5 flight hours, this craft holds the record for the most flight time regularly soaring above 80,000 ft at speeds greater than Mach 3.2. It is also believed to be the single most photographed Blackbird aircraft.
Opening and closing according to the pressure output of the afterburner, engine nacelle exhaust ejectors are considered one of the hardest working parts of the aircraft. The size and shape of the fragments will vary and some will show scorch marks.
📸 A close-up of the turkey feather with scorch marks. (Mini Museum)
All fragments have sharp edges, so please use extreme caution when handling and never allow children to handle the specimens unattended.
The specimen is enclosed in a handsome, glass-topped riker box case measuring 4 1/2" x 3 1/2". A small information card is also included.
📸 Side B of the "Turkey Feather" (Mini Museum)
As noted above, this specimen is a fragment of an inner ejector filler (aka "turkey feather") from SR-71 61-7956, also known as NASA 831. With 1,454 successful flights and 3,967.5 flight hours, this craft holds the record for the most flight time regularly soaring above 80,000ft at speeds greater than Mach 3.2. It is also believed to be the single most photographed Blackbird aircraft.
The turkey feathers are overlapping flaps that surrounded the exhaust of the SR-71. Opening and closing according to the pressure output of the afterburner, they are considered one of the hardest working parts of the aircraft. SR-71 61-7956 was retired in 1990 and delivered to NASA for research flights in 1991. It is currently on display at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
📸 Preparing SR-71 Specimens (Mini Museum)
Source and Preparation
The specimen was purchased from Daniel Freeman, Supervisor and Chief of Metals Technology for the 9th Reconnaissance Wing I. During his time with the USAF, Daniel worked on an amazing range of aircraft including the SR-71, U2, A-10, and B-52G just to name a few. His dedication to sharing this mission-flown material is very inspiring and his guidance was invaluable. SR-71 61-7972 was retired in 1990 and is currently on display in the Smithsonian's Air & Space collection at the Udvar-Hazy Center just outside Washington, D.C.
Cutting the titanium alloy was one of the biggest challenges with this specimen. R.R. Boyer's study "The use of β titanium alloys in the aerospace industry" mentions that the alloy B120VCA, which is used in 93% of the SR-71, can be difficult to work with. Daniel Freeman, who supplied the SR-71 material, explained that there were at least three (3) different types of titanium alloy used on the SR-71's:
"The type used on the wing skins is the B120 but the type used on the turkey feathers is "A110AT Titanium". It is also called "Grade 6 Titanium". The specific alloy content is: 5% aluminum and 2.5% tin. It is also known as Ti-5Al-2.5Sn. This alloy is used in airframes and jet engines due to its good weldability, stability and strength at elevated temperatures."
"Nothing had prepared me to fly that fast... My God, even now, I get goose bumps remembering."
~ Air Force Colonel Jim Wadkins
📸 USAF/Brian Shul: A self-portrait of Major Brian Shul in full flight suit gear within the cockpit of the SR-71 Blackbird.
📸 NASA EC94-42883-4 Dryden's SR-71B, NASA 831, slices across the snow-covered southern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California after being refueled by an Air Force tanker during a 1994 flight.
The SR-71 was built for speed and stealth. Setting records as the world's fastest manned aircraft, the SR-71 easily cruised at more than three times the speed of sound. For those lucky few who were able to fly the SR-71, the experience turned out to be something also quasi-religious. That sense of reverence also extended to those who faced the SR-71 as an enemy aircraft. Viktor Belenko, the soviet MiG pilot who defected to Japan in 1976 wrote, "They taunted and toyed with the MiG-25s sent up to intercept them, scooting up to altitudes we could not reach, and circling leisurely above them or dashing off at speeds we could not match."
📸 Clarence Leonard 'Kelly' Johnson (1910-1990) - A lifetime of service and innovation. Pictured: the Model 10 Electra, with Amelia Earhart, in the cockpit of the P-38 Lightning, and later in life with the SR-71 Blackbird.
The Blackbird program got off the ground in 1957 when the US Central Intelligence Agency commissioned the development of an undetectable aircraft capable of high altitude, high speed reconnaissance. The agency turned to Lockheed's "Skunk Works" operation and aeronautical engineering legend Clarence Leonard "Kelly" Johnson.
For decades, Johnson helped develop some of the most important aircraft in US Air Force history, including such diverse craft as the P-38 Lightning and the U-2 Spy Plane. The Blackbird would be Johnson's penultimate aircraft, surpassing all previous engineering efforts and establishing a technology platform that still holds every record it set, even more than 50 years after its maiden flight.
📸 USAF DF-SC-82-10542: An air-to-air left front view of a A-12 aircraft. Erroneously identified as Y-12 in the source, but Serial Number 06932 is a A-12 (see en:Lockheed A-12). This aircraft was lost over South China Sea on June 6, 1968
The first official Blackbird test flight occurred on April 30th, 1962. This model, the A-12, was a smaller, single-seat version of what would become the SR-71. The test took place at the secretive Groom Lake, Nevada Air Force base also known as Area-51. The first SR-71 flight took place less than two years later on December 22, 1964.
In 1991, after the retirement of the SR-71 program, two planes were given to NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (now the Armstrong Flight Research Center) in Edwards, California. These planes included a standard SR-71 and the SR-71B, a model built in order to train pilots of the aircraft. These planes would go on to be used for a number of experiments run by NASA until their final retirement in 1999.
📸 NASA EC98-44817-2: SR-71A on ramp with dual max afterburner engines firing.
The SR-71’s abilities made it an ideal platform for high speed, high altitude research in a variety of fields: aerodynamics, propulsion, thermal materials, atmospheric studies, and sonic boom characterization. During their time at NASA, the planes tested laser light as a way to produce air speed and altitude data, collected information on celestial objects on wavelengths blocked to ground based instruments, and was even used in a study to attempt to minimize the peaks of sonic booms on the ground.
Though many mission records about the Blackbird have been declassified, the full extent of the Blackbird's operations is unknown. What is known is that in 35 years not a single SR-71 was lost to hostile actions. For enemy fighters, the aircraft was simply too fast and flew too high. For surface to air missiles, the radar signature of the SR-71 was too small to be detected until it was too late to react.
In 1989, despite the continued superiority of the platform, the SR-71 program was slated for retirement. It's generally believed that politics were at the root of the retirement since the SR-71 remained the fastest plane in the sky by a wide margin and its reconnaissance capabilities were still needed. For nearly a decade, opponents and proponents of the SR-71 wrestled with the issue, reactivating the program in the mid-90s and then permanently retiring the craft in 1998. The final SR-71 mission occurred on October 9th, 1999. During the delivery flight from Los Angeles, the aircraft flew coast to coast in just 67 minutes.
Officially, there is no known replacement for the SR-71, though most capabilities have been replaced by satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).