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    HomeMilitaryThe Unbeatable Speed of the SR-71 Blackbird: Easily Outrunning the Soviet MiG-25

    The Unbeatable Speed of the SR-71 Blackbird: Easily Outrunning the Soviet MiG-25

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    Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: P-40 Warhawk, SR-71 Blackbird, Naval Aircraft Factory N3N seaplane, Space Shuttle Enterprise” by Chris Devers is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    When the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was unveiled to the public in 1964, it heralded a new era in reconnaissance aviation.

    The Blackbird’s capability to sustain Mach 3.2 for extended periods was, making it the perennial holder of the crown for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft in history.

    SR-71 Blackbird at Strategic Air and Space Museum, Omaha” by Asten is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Designed by the legendary aeronautical engineer Kelly Johnson, the SR-71 was designed to defeat the most capable air defense systems and intercept fighters the planet had ever seen through a combination of early stealth, meticulous mission planning, and perhaps most important of all, sheer power.

    In the 1960s, the Soviet Union’s Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 Foxbat posed the most serious challenge to the Blackbird.

    The MiG-25, primarily designed as a high-speed interceptor and reconnaissance aircraft, managed to record speeds as high as Mach 3.2 during brief all-out sprints—only to risk significant engine damage.

    SR-71 2” by ndrwfgg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    In stark contrast, the SR-71’s unique Pratt & Whitney J58 turbojet engines allowed it to cruise at these high speeds for hours without any detriment to the aircraft’s integrity.

    While the MiG-25 Foxbat may have been formidable with its speeds exceeding Mach 3.2 and its ability to fly higher than 80,000 feet as observed by Israeli forces over the Sinai Peninsula in 1971, these performances were fleeting and unsustainable.

    Lt. Viktor Belenko, a Soviet MiG-25 pilot who defected in 1976, recounted the futility of intercepting the SR-71.

    SR-71 (Udvar-Hazy)” by Roger Smith is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The Foxbat “simply couldn’t climb fast enough to close with an SR-71 screaming past at sustained speeds above Mach 3,” and even if they could attempt an interception, their missiles lacked the necessary thrust to bridge the gap.

    Lockheed A-12 ‘06924’ & SR-71 ‘17973’” by Support your local Air Museum! (HawkeyeUK) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    The Blackbird’s speed was indeed not its only defense mechanism.

    Beale AFB SR-71 1985” by StuSeeger is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    With a radar cross-section of just 22 square inches, the SR-71 was a challenging target for the Soviet Union’s surface-to-air missiles.

    SR-71 Fairford” by Rob Schleiffert is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    By the time defense systems reacted, the SR-71 was already out of their reach, having darted away at speeds.

    Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: SR-71 Blackbird and Space Shuttle Enterprise in the distance” by Chris Devers is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Captain Mikhail Myagkiy, a former Soviet pilot, claimed to have successfully locked onto an SR-71 in his MiG-31, a claim that remains unverified and disputed.

    Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird 1966” by Falcon_33 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    The engineering challenges overcome to create the SR-71 were immense.

    Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25” by Pavel Vanka is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    From inventing new kinds of wire for its avionics systems to withstand massive temperature fluctuations to formulating new hydraulic fluids functional at both sea level and high altitude, Even the Blackbird’s quartz windows, heated up to the point that they could warm a pilot’s meal.

    Relevant articles:
    Russia’s Fast MiG-25 Stood No Chance Against the SR-71 Blackbird, The National Interest
    The 11 Fastest Planes in the World [#11 Hasn’t Been Produced Yet], pilotmall.com
    This was the only fighter that had a chance of catching the SR-71, We Are The Mighty, Jul 31, 2022

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