The SR-71 wasn’t like other planes. It didn’t retire like them either.
On this day in 1990, SR-71 #972 took its final flight for the U. S. Military and was officially retired. It ran from Los Angeles to Washington, headed to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. In typical Blackbird fashion, it set four speed records on the way.
Pilot Lt Col Ed Yielding and Reconnaissance Systems Officer Lt Col Joseph Vida took off at Palmdale, California and landed at Washington-Dulles a scant hour, four minutes, and 20 seconds later. This was enough to set records from the West Coast to the East Coast, from Los Angeles to Washington, from Kansas City to Washington, and from St. Louis to Cincinnati.
The average speed (just the average!) was 2,145 mph, as Brian Shul recalled in his account of his experiences as an SR-71 pilot, Sled Driver. You can read an excerpt of that book right here.
You can see the route they took below, thanks to the website of Buddy L. Brown, an SR-71 crewmember.
The Blackbird has a feel of a world record about it, in itself. You can look at an SR-71 and get a sense of standing human achievement, of something that appears almost like a natural creation. That it set a record on its final run is only fitting.