Kit No. 145
Cost: $15 – 20 aftermarket
Decals: Two versions, both for U.S. Air Force
Comments: Raised panel lines; Partially corrugated wing surface; Boxed-in wheel wells; Choice of two-seater versions, one with dual controls; Option for dorsally mounted reconnaissance drone
Lockheed’s SR-71, with its impressive and unorthodox appearance, was the successor of the U-2 spy plane. It is a long range, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from Lockheed Skunk Works classifed A-12 project. It flew for the first time on December 22, 1964 at a U.S. Air Force aerospace facility known as Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. The SR-71exceeded the U-2’s capabilities in many ways, including being built to perform its reconnaissance duties at a speed of Mach 3.5. Like the U-2, the SR-71 relies on very high altitude – often around 80,000 feet — as it primary means of defense. But the SR-71’s Pratt & Whitney J58 turbojets – the only military powerplant designed to operate continuously on afterburner — give it a top speed of at least Mach 3.5, so its standard defensive move upon detecting a missile launch, is simply to accellerate. The J58 engine was also unique in that it was a hybrid, operating as a conventional turbojet at lower speeds, but becoming more efficient at high speeds, operating as a ramjet.
Although a number of SR-71’s were destroyed due to accidents, none were lost to enemy action during the span of its career, from 1964 to 1998. Although built with radar-absorbing materials and designed to have flattened, tapering leading edges called chines, the SR-71 had a massive infra-red heat signature when travelling at speeds of Mach 3.2 or more, and there are several documented incidents of missiles being fired at them once they were detected — but none successfully.
The U.S. Strategic Air Command claims that the Blackbird still holds the world speed record — it can cross the United States in less than an hour. SR-71’s have been employed in hot spots all over the world, flying over Cuba, China, Vietnam and the Middle East in times of both international tension and local conflicts.
Although allegedy phased out by the U.S. government in favor of ever more sophisticated and less costly satellite reconnaissance and other unmanned reconnaissance platforms (it has been retired from service twice, once in 1989 and again in 1998) the SR-71 remains the most sophisticated surveillance aircraft in the world. The cost of maintaining the fleet of SR-71’s — the airframe used a great deal of titanium, a very expensive strategic metal — at times led Congress, and even the Air Force, to balk at maintaining even a few aircraft on operational status. During its service life it operated from bases in the U.S,; Okinawa, Japan; Thailand; and the Phillipines.
The SR-71 also holds the record for flying from New York to London in 1 hour 54 minutes and 56.4 seconds, set on 1 September 1974. This equates to an average velocity of about Mach 2.68, including deceleration for in-flight refueling. Peak speeds during this flight were probably closer to the declassified top speed of Mach 3.2+.
Italeri’s Blackbird is molded in black and consists of 64 parts, plus an additional 7 parts for an optional GTD-21B drone that can be mounted on its back. The razor-sharp leading edges do not disappoint. They strongly favor the actual aircraft and look as if they will require some filler, but not much.
Both instrument panels have molded on detail, and Italeri has faithfully recreated the SR-71’s corrugated wing surface — an initially controversial feature among some of the Blackbird’s designers that succeeded in giving the skin of the wing both strength and flexibility when it was exposed to the inevitable heat expansion associated with prolonged Mach speeds. There are detailed landing gear but unfortunately no display stand, as the SR-71 is at its most majestic in flight. There are no pilot figures, but the dual cockpits can be built open or closed.
The instructions display two paint schemes with no accompanying explanation as to the different units the aircraft may have been assigned to; one version is overall black, the second is natural metal with a black nose and black leading edges — reminescent of the paint scheme displayed on the box art of Italeri’s related A-12 kit. No details are provided as to the use or efficiency of the drone unit.
The detail on this kit is fairly extensive for the scale. Scanning the instructions, you expect to be in for a pleasant build and no real moments of frustration, but a significant drawback for a kit of this type is the lack of a display stand, which will have to be scratch-built. Also of note is the lack of any unit information for the markings provided. The cockpit has a significant amount of raised detail on the main and side instrument panels, as do the wheels. A very nice rendition of perhaps the coolest looking aircraft of the Cold War. Recommended.