Tag Archives: Lockheed SR-71A

6 March 1990

Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Completing its final flight, Lockheed SR-71A 61-7972, flown by Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Vida, arrives at Washington Dulles International Airport, 6 March 1990, where it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

6 March 1990: On its final flight, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond E. (“Ed”) Yeilding and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. (“J.T.”) Vida established four National Aeronautic Association and three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale speed records with a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, U.S. Air Force serial number 61-7972.

Departing Air Force Plant 42 (PMD) at Palmdale, California, Yeilding and Vida headed offshore to refuel from a Boeing KC-135Q Stratotanker so that the Blackbird’s fuel tanks would be full before beginning their speed run. 972 entered the “west gate,” a radar reference point over Oxnard on the southern California coast, then headed east to Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) at Washington, D.C.

The transcontinental flight, a distance of 2,404.05 statute miles (3,868.94 kilometers), took 1 hour, 7 minutes, 53.69 seconds, for an average of 2,124.51 miles per hour (3,419.07 kilometers per hour).

Ben Rich, director of Lockheed's Advanced Development Projects ("Skunk Works") congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (Unattributed)
Ben Rich, director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects (“Skunk Works”), congratulates LCOL Ed Yeilding  (center) and LCOL J.T. Vida on their record-setting flight. (© Tony Landis)

Intermediate closed-course records were also established: Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., 2,299.67 miles (3,700.96 kilometers), 1:04:19.89, averaging 2,144.83 m.p.h  (3,451.77 km/h).; Kansas City to Washington, D.C., 942.08 miles (1,516.13 km), 25:58.53, 2,176.08 m.p.h. (3,502.06 km/h); and St. Louis to Cincinnati, 311.44 miles (501.21 km), 8:31.97, 2,189.94 m.p.h. (3,524.37 km/h).

Flight record data for 972's record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, ADP, LASC.
Flight record data for 972’s record-setting transcontinental flight, prepared by V.A. Wright, Advanced Development Projects, Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Company.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.20.01Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.21.35Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.22.43Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 10.23.55This same SR-71 had previously set a speed record from New York to London of 1:54:56.4, averaging 1,806.957 m.p.h. (2,908.015 km/h). (It had to slow for inflight refueling.) Next, 972 set a record flying London to Los Angeles, 5,446.87 miles (8765.89 km), in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 39 seconds, averaging 1,435.49 m.p.h. (2,310.19 km/h). It also established an altitude record of 85,069 feet (25,929 meters).

This was 61-7972’s final flight. The total time on its airframe was 2,801.1 hours.

61-7972 is on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM
Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian NASM

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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Clarence Leonard (“Kelly”) Johnson (27 February 1910–21 December 1990)

Clarence Leonard "Kelly" Johnson. (guggenheimedal.org)
Clarence Leonard “Kelly” Johnson. (guggenheimedal.org)

Clarence Leonard (“Kelly”) Johnson was born at Ishpeming, Michigan, United States of America, 27 February 1910. He was the third of five children of Peter Johnson, a stone mason, and Kjrstie Anderson Johnson. His parents were immigrants from Sweden.

C.L. Johnson, 1932 (Michiganensian)

Kelly Johnson attended Flint Central High School, graduating in 1928. After studying at a community college, Johnson transferred to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He graduated in 1932 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering (B.S.E. AeroE.). He won the Frank Sheehan Scholarship in Aeronautics, which enabled him to continue at the University to earn a Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering (M.S.E.) in 1933.

Kelly Johnson started working as a tool designer for the Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank, California, in 1933. After transferring to the engineering department, he was assigned to the company’s Model 10 Electra project. Johnson identified a stability problem with the airplane’s design, and he was sent back to the University of Michigan to conduct a wind tunnel study which resulted in his proposal of the twin vertical tail configuration which was a characteristic of many Lockheed airplanes that followed. Johnson also served as a flight test engineer for the airplane.

A genius of aeronautical engineering and design, he was responsible for all of Lockheed’s most famous aircraft: the Lockheed Hudson and Neptune medium bombers, the P-38 Lightning twin-engine fighter, the P-80 Shooting Star, America’s first full-production jet fighter. He designed the beautiful Constellation airliner. The list is seemingly endless: The F-94 Starfire, F-104 Starfighter, U-2, A-12 Oxcart and the SR-71 Blackbird.

Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson conducted wind tunnel testing of the Lockheed Model 10 at the University of Michigan. (Lockheed Martin)
The prototype Lockheed Model 10 Electra NX233Y during flight testing. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Model 12 Electra Jr. (SDASM Catalog #: 01_00091568)
Lockheed YP-38 Lightning (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed Model 14-N2 Super Electra Special, c/1419, NX18973. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Lockheed Model 414 Hudson (A-29A-LO) in U.S. Army Air Corps markings. (U.S. Air Force)
Prototype Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar, NX17385. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed Ventura (IWM ATP 12110C)
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson (left) and Chief Engineering Test Pilot Milo G. Burcham, with the XC-69. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed XC-69 prototype, NX25600, landing at Burbank Airport. (Lockheed Martin)
The Lockheed XP-80 prototype, 44-83020, at Muroc AAF, 8 January 1944. (Lockheed Martin)
Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson with a scale model of a Lockheed P-80A-1-LO Shooting Star. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed XP2V-1 Neptune prototype, Bu. No. 48237, 1945. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed TP-80C-1-LO (T-33A) prototype, 48-356, with P-80C-1-LO Shooting Star 47-173, at Van Nuys Airport, California. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed YF-94 prototype, 48-356. (See TP-80C prototype, above.) (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed XF-104 prototype, 53-7786, photographed 5 May 1954. (Lockheed Martin)
Kelly Johnson seated in the cockpit of a prototype Lockheed XF-104 Starfighter. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed U-2, “Article 001” (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation prototype, NX6700, ex-L-049 NX25600. (Lockheed Martin)
The second Lockheed L-1649A Starliner, delivered to Trans World Airlnes in September 1957. (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed EC-121T Warning Star. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed Model L-349 JetStar.
Lockheed A-12 60-6924 (Lockheed Martin)
Lockheed SR-71A 69-7953. (U.S. Air Force)
Clarence L. (“Kelly”) Johnson, Director of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Projects (“the Skunk Works”) with the first YF-12A interceptor, 60-6934. (Lockheed Martin)

Kelly Johnson was married three times. He married Miss Althea Louise Young, who worked in Lockheed’s accounting department, in 1937. She died of cancer in December 1969. He then married Miss Maryellen Elberta Meade, his secretary, at Solvang, California, 20 May 1971. She died 13 October 1980 of complications of diabetes. He married his third wife, Mrs. William M. Horrigan (née Nancy M. Powers), a widow, and MaryEllen’s best friend, 21 November 1980. Johnson had no children.

Kelly Johnson retired from Lockheed in 1975 as a senior vice president. He remained on the board of directors until 1980.

Clarence Leonard Johnson died 21 December 1990 at St. Joseph’s Medical Center, Burbank, California, after a long period of hospitalization. He was buried at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 January 1965

Two Lockheed SR-71A "Blackbirds" in the morning fog at Beale AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
Two Lockheed SR-71A “Blackbirds” in the morning fog at Beale AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

1 January 1965: The 4200th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing was activated at Beale Air Force Base, California. The wing operated the Lockheed SR-71A. On 25 January 1966, it was redesignated the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.

A flock of Blackbirds. Lockheed SR-71As at Beale AFB. (U.S. Air Force)
A flock of Blackbirds. Lockheed SR-71As at Beale AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 July 1976

Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958. (FAI)
Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958. (FAI)

27 July 1976: Major Adolphus H. Bledsoe, Jr., pilot, and Major John T. Fuller, RSO, flew a Lockheed SR-71A, 61-7958, to a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) Absolute World Record Speed of 2,092.29 miles per hour (3,367.22 kilometers per hour) over a 1,000 kilometer closed circuit.

FAI Record File Num #3928 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km without payload
Performance: 3 367.22 km/h
Date: 1976-07-27
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Adolphus Bledsoe (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” (17958)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #3929 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – retired by changes of the sporting code
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1 (Landplanes)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Speed over a closed circuit of 1 000 km with 1 000 kg payload
Performance: 3 367.22 km/h
Date: 1976-07-27
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Adolphus Bledsoe (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” (17958)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

FAI Record File Num #3930 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-Absolute (Absolute Record of classes C, H and M)
Category: Not applicable
Group: Not applicable
Type of record: Speed
Performance: 3 367.22 km/h
Date: 1976-07-27
Course/Location: Beale Air Force Base, CA (USA)
Claimant Adolphus Bledsoe (USA)
Aeroplane: Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” (17958)
Engines: 2 Pratt & Whitney J-58/JTD11D-20A

De La Vaulx Medal
De La Vaulx Medal

The following day, the same airplane, flown by two different crews, set a World Record for Altitude in Horizontal Flight at 85,068 feet (25,929 meters) and a World Record for Speed Over a Straight 15/25 Kilometer Course, 2,193.17 miles per hour (3,529.56 kilometers per hour). This second speed record became the new Absolute Speed Record, superseding the record set on this date by Alphonsus Bledsoe and John T. Fuller.

All six airmen were awarded the Henry De La Vaulx Medal by the FAI.

Today, 61-7958 is on display at the Museum of Aviation, Warner-Robins, Georgia. 32 of these long range strategic reconnaissance aircraft were built by the Lockheed Skunk Works.

Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958 at Beale AFB, 28 July 1976. (U.S. Air Force)
Lockheed SR-71A 61-7958 at Beale AFB, 28 July 1976. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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