The Blackbird

The SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” was a long-range, Mach 3+, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft.

B-58 navigator recalls dropping Mark-53 nuclear bomb (without plutonium pit) while flying at 500 feet and at 628 knots, low level recce missions, dinner with Doolittle Raiders and Jimmy Stewart
CLICK HERE to see The Aviation Geek Club contributor Linda Sheffield’s T-shirt designs! Linda has a personal relationship with the SR-71 because her father Butch Sheffield flew the Blackbird from test flight in 1965 until 1973. Butch’s Granddaughter’s Lisa Burroughs and Susan Miller are graphic designers. They designed most of the merchandise that is for sale on Threadless. A percentage of the profits go to Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base. This nonprofit charity is personal to the Sheffield family because they are raising money to house SR-71, #955. This was the first Blackbird that Butch Sheffield flew on Oct. 4, 1965.

The first flight of an SR-71 took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in January 1966.

The Blackbird was in a different category from anything that had come before. “Everything had to be invented. Everything,” Skunk Works legendary aircraft designer Kelly Johnson recalled in an interesting article appeared on Lockheed Martin website.

Cool Video Explains how SR-71 Blackbird’s J58 Turbo-Ramjet Engine Works
This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 “Skunkworks”

The speed of the SR-71 exceeded 2,000 mph. Other planes of the era could, in theory, approximate that speed but only in short, after-burner-driven bursts. The Blackbird maintained a record-setting speed for hours at a time. At such velocity, friction with the atmosphere generates temperatures that would melt the conventional airframe.

Two Buick Nailhead V8 engines to start the SR-71 Mach 3+ plane

When Kelly Johnson was designing the A-12/YF-12 /M-21 and SR-71 he didn’t want the weight to be added for a starter on the airplane. He said the more it weights the more fuel it will need. It was decided that two Buick Nailhead V8 engines would be able to do the job.

Did you know two Buick Nailhead V8 engines were used to start the SR-71 Mach 3+ plane because the Blackbird didn’t have a starter?
SR-71 Blackbird AG330 start cart

Not only starting the Blackbird, the fastest airplane in the world, was exciting, but also sounded like the Indianapolis 500 was getting the SR-71 ready to fly thanks to the two V8 engines as you can hear in the following video.

According to Autoevolution, for this purpose alone, two of either above-mentioned Nailhead V8s were fused together via a common transmission and drive shaft to work in tandem, then placed inside a metal housing mounted on four wheels with a trailer hitch and dubbed the AG330 “start cart.” The resulting Chimera was attached directly to the Blackbird’s two engines. Using the combined drive shaft, the two V8s spun the turbines to the point they could sustain compression by themselves. Nailhead V8s served as impromptu starter motors for the SR-71 and its cousins, the A-12 Archangel and the YF-12 fighter, until at least 1970, when the bulk of them were replaced with Chevy 454 V8s.

Did you know two Buick Nailhead V8 engines were used to start the SR-71 Mach 3+ plane because the Blackbird didn’t have a starter?

Phased out

These were also phased out when a new, quieter pneumatic system was implemented to do the same job as the start cart at most airbases on US soil the Blackbird and company operated from. Some remained for longer at auxiliary bases abroad, including a handful with the original Buick Nailheads, until the Blackbird and all its variants was retired in 1999.

Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Twitter X Page Habubrats SR-71 and Facebook Page Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder Habubrats for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

Cool Video Explains how SR-71 Blackbird’s J58 Turbo-Ramjet Engine Works
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: John Freedman and User:Jaydec via Wikipedia