On this day in 1990 an SR-71 Blackbird Flew From LA to Washington DC In 1 hour, 4 minutes and 20 seconds

SR-71 landing. (Image credit: NASA History Office).

In 1990, a Blackbird smashed a transcontinental speed record.

On Mar. 6, 1990, SR-71 Blackbird S/N 61-7972 (tail number #972) made its final flight from AF Flight Test Center Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, to Washington DC to be retired and put on display at The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

During that flight, pilot Lt. Cols. Ed Yielding and RSO (Reconnaissance Systems Operator) Joseph Vida set a speed record flying from LA to DC (2299.7 statute miles) in 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 20 seconds, averaging 3,418 km/h (2,124 MPH).

The SR-71 took off from Edwards at 04.30AM, refueled offshore from a KC-135, flew back over Edwards and then headed eastward at supersonic speed. At 06.01AM a loud sonic boom rocked Southern California and local residents, hearing the sonic boom, called police to report the sound of an explosion or earthquake.

On the way to its retirement home at the museum, the airplane broke four flight time records: St. Louis to Cincinnati in 8 minutes and 32 seconds (311 miles at 2189.9 MPH); Kansas City to Washington DC in 25 mins and 59 secs (942 miles 2176 MPH) and US West to East Coast in 67 mins and 54 secs (2404 miles 2124.5 MPH). Pretty Impressive.

The Certificate of Achievement flown by the SR-71 #972 on Mar. 6, 1990. (Image credit: Haburats FB page).

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird flew for the first time on Dec. 22, 1964 at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. The first aircraft to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later, 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, California, in January 1966. Throughout its career, that came to an end on Oct. 9, 1999, no SR-71 was reportedly lost nor damaged due to hostile actions: the SR-71 flew above Mach 3 at 85,000 feet, with a reported top speed of Mach 3.4 during flight testing and Mact 3.5 during on an operational sortie while evading a missile over Libya.

The last flight of an SR-71 took place on Oct. 9, 1999, during the Edwards AFB Open House Airshow. Fourteen years later, in 2013, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, the legendary division that designed airplanes which represented a giant leap for their times such as the F-104, the U-2, the Blackbird family or the F-117A stealth fighter jet, revealed the existence of a sort of SR-71 replacement: a Hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike aircraft dubbed SR-72, designed for Mach 6.

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About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.