Developed for the Air Force in the early 60's as a high altitude, high speed strategic reconnaissance platform, the SR-71 is the world's fastest and highest-flying production aircraft. Also known as "The Sled", the SR-71 is capable of flying at speeds in excess of 2200 mph (Mach 3.5+) and at altitudes beyond 85,000 feet and has the ability to fly over 2,000 miles without refueling. At operational altitude and speed friction between the air and airframe generates so much heat that the SR-71 will expand by as much as 11 inches. As a result, the Blackbird's elastic fuel cells, which also serve as heat sinks once airborne, leak heavily on the ground and so the SR-71 is only loaded with sufficient JP-7 to get to refueling altitude where it takes on a full load before climbing once again to its operational altitude. Once at cruising altitude, fuel flow is automatically regulated so as to maintain the aircraft's center of ballance.
In addition, much of the airframe is constructed of titanium and titanium alloys which, in addition to reducing the weight of the airframe, are more resistant to severe thermal fluctuations than other building materials. Although the SR-71 is equipped with two very powerful engines, at its operational altitude the Blackbird achieves its incredible speed by dumping raw fuel into the compressed air produced by the continuous bleed turbojets, in effect turning the engines into continuously afterburning ramjets.
The SR-71 accommodates two crew members, a pilot and systems operator, in a stepped cockpit configuration. Because of the extreme altitudes and speeds that the Blackbird operates at, the crew members are require to wear fully enclosed pressure suits similar in design to those worn by astronauts. For reconnaissance missions the SR-71 can use a variety of electrical and optical systems tailored to each mission's specific requirements, which, when coupled with the Blackbird's speed, give it the ability to map over 100,000 square miles an hour (it would take the SR-71 approximately six minutes to map all of Italy).