The SR-71 Blackbird is Actually Dark Blue

March 22, 2012 at 2:00 am 2 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

I saw the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird at an air-show on the west coast in 1986. When the announcer introduced the jet, he indicated the plane had left New York about an hour earlier. A similar flight would take more than 5 hours on a commercial jet, but the SR-71 Blackbird is capable of traveling at over 2,200 mph (3530 km/h). As a kid and now as an adult, this blows my mind.

Although it was retired in 1998, it still holds the record for fastest jet powered aircraft, which it achieved in 1976. It was so fast that the standard procedure for missile defense was to simply accelerate and outrun the missile.

At about $33 million, the plane was expensive for its time. This was partly because its structure was 85% titanium. Much of the titanium was acquired from Russia during the cold war no less. The titanium was procured under many false pretenses to hide its true use from the Soviet government.

Titanium was needed to withstand the extreme heat generated by the high speeds. Over time, engineers discovered that the titanium skin was actually becoming stronger due to the extreme heat it was exposed to during flight. The exterior was painted a very dark blue color, so dark it actually looks black. This color was selected to increase the emission of internal heat and to offer camouflage at night, not to mention its body was designed to reduce its radar signature, so it could hide in the “black” on radar.

Only 32 of these jets were ever built. Twelve were lost in accidents; the other 20 remain in museums around the United States, except for one which lives in the American Air Museum at the Imperial War Museum Duxford (Cambridgeshire, England).

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Image: wikimedia commons, US Gov (public domain)

Sources: wikipedia (SR-71)

Entry filed under: Despite Popular Belief. Tags: , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Schmitty  |  September 7, 2012 at 2:51 am

    The best example of a blackbird that you can see in a museum is also probably #971, which is at the Evergreen Air and Space museum in McMinnville, Oregon. I know because I was on the crew that helped re-assemble it! Most all of the ones in museums were cut up to be fit on trucks… We disassembled ours so that the integrity of the structure would be maintained. It is also the most complete example you will find. Go check it out, it and the Spruce Goose are well worth it!

  • 2. Kirk Davenport  |  May 18, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Your information is wrong. These airplanes were painted with black paint mixed and formulated in-house at Lockheed. This blue paint BS started someplace but it has to stop. Open your eyes. If you can’t tell blue from black, get your eyes checked. BTW NONE of these airplanes were ever painted gloss blue or black, so don’t start with that one either.


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