L.A. to D.C. in 68 Minutes : Record 2,200 m.p.h. Flight Is Last for U.S. Spy Plane : Jet Will Be Housed at Smithsonian

From United Press International

The Air Force’s SR-71 Blackbird spy plane smashed a transcontinental speed record today as it flew into retirement and the history books.

The nation’s fastest operational airplane took off from Edwards Air Force Base in California at 4:30 a.m., refueled offshore, flew back over Edwards and then shot off eastward at supersonic speeds that triggered a 6:01 a.m. sonic boom.

The Los Angeles-to-Washington flight was 1 hour, 8 minutes and 17 seconds, said the Smithsonian Institution, which will keep the plane in the National Air and Space Museum.


On the way to its retirement home at the museum, the airplane broke four flight time records, including the world record of 4 hours, 12 minutes and 10 seconds for a flight from Los Angeles to Washington.

“We figured it would make it in about an hour,” said Barbara Kornylo of Lockheed, the builder of the airplane.

The SR-71, designed in the early 1960s, is able to cruise faster than three times the speed of sound. The planes were built with a titanium alloy and can withstand temperatures exceeding 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The first flight of the SR-71 was on Dec. 22, 1964, the Smithsonian said.

The Blackbird flies at an average speed of 2,200 m.p.h., about 400 m.p.h. to 500 m.p.h. faster than the Concorde, which is the fastest airplane in commercial operation, Lockheed spokesman Jim Ragsdale said.

The SR-71 was never designed for commercial passenger use. It has seats only for a pilot and a reconnaissance systems officer and was designed to fly high, fast and unarmed on photographic reconnaissance missions. Because of the high altitudes the aircraft can reach, crew members on missions had to wear pressure suits and be connected to life support systems.

The SR-71s were officially retired on Feb. 26, but Lockheed requested one of them to break some records publicly on its last flight, something that the plane has been doing--but on a classified basis--for years, Kornylo said.


In addition to breaking the world Los Angeles-to-Washington record set several years ago by pilot Brooke Knapp in her Lear jet 35A, the Blackbird also set speed records for the following: Los Angeles to Washington, 2,153.24 m.p.h.; St. Louis to Cincinnati, 2,242.48 m.p.h., and Kansas City to Washington, 2,200.94 m.p.h.

The Blackbird, after fueling over the Pacific Ocean from an Air Force KC-135, a type of flying gas station, passed through a radar screen and quickly accelerated past the speed of sound.

Southland residents, hearing the sonic boom, called police to report the sound of an explosion or earthquake, Sgt. James McClard said.

While the Air Force has never publicly revealed how many SR-71s it commissioned to be built, 12 of them were stationed at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California in January.

Besides the SR-71 that flew today, one is going to a museum at Warner-Robbins Air Force Base in Georgia, another to March Air Force Base in Southern California and three to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for use in high-altitude research.