Known as the world’s fastest and highest flying aircraft,
the SR-71 remains a source of fascination and secrecy over fifty
years since its development. In the mid 1950s, the United
States Air Force and the C.I.A. sought to replace the
The ARCHANGEL project, spearheaded by
Lockheed, led to the development of the A-12, an over-flight
aircraft configured to fly at extremely high speeds and altitudes
over intended targets. In May of 1960, however, after a U-2
was shot down over the Soviet Union, the United States signed an
agreement not to fly manned vehicles over the Soviet Union
again. As a result, the newly developed A-12 could no longer
complete its mission as originally intended.
The SR-71 became the CIA’s answer. Configured to use
cameras that were for peripheral coverage, the aircraft could
gather imagery data without entering enemy airspace. The
government, however, decided it was too costly to keep both
aircraft programs in development.
To decide which aircraft was better suited for the mission, the
USAF conducted a reconnaissance “fly-off” between the
A-12 and the SR-71 in November of 1967. The SR-71 was ruled
as the superior aircraft, and the A-12 program was retired.
The SR-71 flew its first operational
mission on March 21st, 1968, and though it was officially retired
in 1990, the United States Air Force kept several SR-71s in
operation until its final flight in October of 1999. Capable
of long-range strategic reconnaissance missions, the aircraft is
able to fly at speeds over Mach 3.2 and at 85,000 feet, though it
is rumored to be able to accelerate to Mach 3.5 and fly up to
The aircraft has broken several records including two on July
28th, 1976: the world speed record at 2,193 mph and a world
altitude record of 85,068.997 feet.