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NASA Facts SR-71 Blackbird 2008

NASA Facts SR-71 Blackbird 2008

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Jul 18, 2011
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During the 1990s two SR-71 Black-bird aircraft were used by NASA as testbeds for high-speed andhigh-altitude aeronautical researchat Dryden. The aircraft included anSR-71A and SR-71B (the trainer ver-sion), loaned to NASA by the U.S. Air Force.The SR-71, the most advancedmember of the Blackbird family thatincluded the A-12 and YF-12, wasdesigned by a team of Lockheedpersonnel led by Clarence “Kelly”Johnson, then vice president ofLockheed’s Advanced DevelopmentCompany Projects, commonly knownas the “Skunk Works” and now a partof Lockheed Martin Corp.The Blackbird design originated insecrecy during the late l950s withthe A-12 reconnaissance aircraft that
rst ew in April 1962 and remainedclassied until 1976. President Lyn
-don Johnson publicly announced theexistence of the YF-12A interceptor
variant on Feb. 29, 1964, more thanhalf a year after its maiden ight. TheSR-71 completed its rst ight on
SR-71 Blackbird
EC97 43933-4
NASA Facts
Dec. 22, 1964. More than a decade after their
retirement the Blackbirds remain the world’s
fastest and highest-ying production aircraft
ever built.The Blackbirds were designed to cruise at
Mach 3.2, just over three times the speed of
sound or more than 2,200 miles per hour andat altitudes up to 85,000 feet. The extreme op-
erating environment in which they ew made
the aircraft excellent platforms for conductingresearch and experiments in a variety of disci-plines: aerodynamics, propulsion, structures,thermal protection materials, high-speed andhigh-temperature instrumentation, atmospher-ic studies and sonic boom characterization.SR-71 activities at Dryden were part ofNASA’s overall high-speed aeronautical re-search program and involved other NASA research centers, other government agencies,
universities and commercial rms. Data from
the SR-71 research program will aid designersof future supersonic/hypersonic aircraft andpropulsion systems.
Research at Mach 3
One of the rst major experiments own on
the NASA SR-71 involved a laser air-datasensor. The sensor used laser light insteadof air pressure to generate airspeed and atti-tude data such as angle of attack and side-slip, data normally obtained with small tubesand vanes extending into the airstream or
from tubes with ush openings on an air
craft’s outer skin. These ights also provided
information on the presence of atmosphericparticles at altitudes above 80,000 feet,where future hypersonic aircraft will oper-ate. The system used six sheets of laser lightprojected from the bottom of the airplane. As microscopic-size atmospheric particlespassed between the two beams, directionand speed were measured and processedinto standard speed and attitude references. An earlier laser air-data measurement sys-tem was successfully tested at Dryden on a
modied F-104 testbed aircraft.The rst of a series of ights using the SR-71
as a science camera platform for NASA’s JetPropulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., was
own in March 1993. From the nose bay of
the aircraft, an upward-facing ultraviolet videocamera recorded data on celestial objects inwavelengths blocked to ground-based as-tronomers by Earth’s atmosphere.In another project, researchers at the Univer-sity of California-Los Angeles used the SR-71 to investigate the use of charged chlorineatoms to protect and rebuild the ozone layer. As part of NASA’s commercialization as-sistance program, the SR-71 served as atestbed in development of a commercialsatellite-based, instant wireless personalcommunications network called IRIDIUM. TheIRIDIUM system was developed by Motorola’sSatellite Communications Division and duringdevelopmental testing, the SR-71 acted as asurrogate satellite for transmitters and receiv-ers on the ground.Because of its high-speed capabilities, sci-entists used the SR-71 in a program to studyways of reducing sonic boom overpressuresthat are heard on the ground much like sharpthunderclaps by aircraft exceeding the speedof sound. Aircraft designers have used datafrom the study in efforts to reduce the “peak”of sonic booms and minimize the “startle ef-fect” they produce on the ground.In 1997 and 1998 the SR-71 carried theLinear Aerospike SR-71 – or LASRE – ex-periment. The LASRE test apparatus was ahalf-span scale model of a lifting body witheight thrust cells of a linear aerospike engine,mounted on the back of an SR-71 aircraft
during ight at high speeds and altitudes.Outtted with the test xture, the aircraft op
erated like a kind of ying wind tunnel that al
NASA Facts
lowed engineers to gather aerodynamic data
under realistic ight conditions.
By the time the Air Force loaned the two SR-71s to Dryden the center already had a de-cade of past experience with the Blackbirds.
Three of the aircraft were own at the facilitybetween December 1969 and November 1979
in a joint NASA/Air Force program aimed atlearning more about the capabilities and limi-
tations of high-speed, high-altitude ight. Therst two were YF-12A prototypes of a planned
interceptor aircraft based on the initial A-12design that ultimately evolved into the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft. While plans were
under way to add another aircraft to the eet,
one YF-12A was lost in a non-fatal mishap in1971. The third aircraft, an SR-71A that wasgiven the designation YF-12C for administra-tive purposes, soon took its place.NASA researchers used the YF-12s for a widevariety of experiments involving aerodynamicand thermal loads, aerodynamic drag andskin friction, heat transfer, airframe and pro-pulsion system interactions, inlet control sys-tem improvements, high-altitude turbulence,
boundary-layer ow, landing gear dynamics,measurement of engine efuents for pollution
studies, noise measurements and evaluationof a maintenance monitoring and recording
system. On many YF-12 ights medical re
-searchers obtained information on the physio-
logical and biomedical aspects of crews ying
at sustained high speeds. Research data fromthe YF-12 program also validated analyticaltheories and wind-tunnel test techniques thatwill improve design and performance of futuremilitary and civil aircraft.
From February 1972 until July 1973, one
YF-12A was used for heat loads testing inDryden’s High Temperature Loads Laboratory(now the Thermostructures Research Facility).The resulting data helped improve theoreti-cal prediction methods and computer modelsdealing with structural loads, materials, andheat distribution at up to 800 degrees Fahren-heit, the surface temperatures reached during
sustained speeds of Mach 3.
SR-71 Specications and Performance
Two Pratt and Whitney J58 axial-ow turbo
 jets with afterburners, each producing 32,500
pounds of thrust, powered the Blackbirds.Less than 20 percent of the total thrust used to
y at Mach 3 was produced by the engine it
-self, however. During high-speed cruise condi-tions the balance of total thrust was producedby the unique design of the engine inlet anda moveable conical spike at the front of eachengine nacelle. Under these conditions, air en-tering the inlets bypassed the engines, goingdirectly to the afterburners and ejector nozzles,thus acting as ramjets.The airframes were built almost entirely oftitanium and other exotic alloys to withstand
heat generated by sustained high-speed ight.Capable of cruising at Mach 3 continuously for
more than one hour at a time, the Blackbirdsprovided a unique research platform for ther-mal experiments because heat-soak tempera-
tures exceeded 600 degrees Fahrenheit.The aircraft was 107.4 feet (32.73 meters)long, had a wingspan of 55.6 feet (16.94 me
ters), and stood 18.5 feet (5.63 meters) high
(from the ground to the top of the rudders
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