Sometime in April 1958, Lockheed first undertook the study of a replacement for the U-2.  Unlike the U-2, this would be an aircraft able to cruise at Mach 3, with a range of over 4,000 nm at altitudes exceeding 90,000 ft.  It would also have an RCS (radar cross section) smaller than the U-2 and every other recce aircraft.  By March 1959, and after an intense competition between Lockheed and Convair (and to lesser extents, Boeing and General Dynamics), Lockheed was building a full scale mockup for radar testing.  First flight was 26 April 1962.  Four years from initial studies to first flight of a radical aircraft, the likes of which had never been seen before.  No supercomputers, no virtual design rooms — no fancy marketing computer animations.  Just slide rules, a small team and sound engineering principles overlayed by a relentless pursuit of perfection…  The rest we pretty well know – how the SR-71 emerged from the A-12 Oxcart program and became an extraordinary reconnaissance platform.  It also begs a question – in a day and age when the gestation for a new fighter aircraft lasts on the order of 7 to 10 or more years, could such a program be replicated today?  In the same timeframe?  From those who were there, it appears the answer is “probably not:”

Phib, Byron — bet the same could be said about the state of our ship design and building industry…

(h/t Stephen Trimble at The DEW Line)

Want to read more?  Check out the official history (via FOIA) here> History of the OXCART Program


  1. Charley

    Probably not, but then again the SR-71 is a brute force, go fast in a straight line aircraft.

  2. Byron

    No freakin’ way, SJS, and it boggles the mind that we could conceive, design, build, test and approve an aircraft almost 50 years ago and in no way shape or form hope to replicate it today. The Blackbird was a truly revolutionary leap in technology and an aircraft that in a half century has yet to be surpassed.

    Charley, NO aircraft going Mach 3+ is going to do much of anything but straight line. Then again, when you’re higher and faster than any SAM, straight is good enough to really **** off the gomers far, far below.

  3. Jim Collins

    It could be done if it were a true “black” project. The SR-71 project was managed by Lockheed, not the Air Force. No Congress critters messing with the budget, tyring to get some component built in their district, not monkeying with the design specifications and last but not least, trying to stretch out the project to keep those people in their district employed longer.

  4. Don Crawford

    As an air traffic controller during the Viet Nam war, I was told by a pilot from the SR-71 program that they would leave Edwards AFB, fly to Florida taking a 500 mile turning radius to start back toward California and be back on the ground in three and one half hours. The highest fuel efficiency came with Wide Open Throttles. At full speed it slides through the atmosphere when turning it and requires a large radius to accomplish a 180 degree turn. Worked with U-2 aircraft also and they too are great pieces of equipment. An F-111B coming across the desert floor at 25 feet off the ground is a real sight to behold. Terrain Following Radar is a great invention.
    There is more great stuff to come!

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