The SR-71 Blackbird is quite possibly the most secretive jet the world has known or at least known to the public. This mysterious stealth jet is unlike any other aircraft with its design, engineering, and speed which remains unchallenged by few aircraft after over 50 years in existence. However, it also has a designation unlike any other aircraft and there is an interesting story about why it is called the “SR-71” Blackbird.
Developed in secrecy aviation by guru Kelly Johnson and his team at the Lockheed division Skunkworks, the Blackbird was far ahead of its time. The project was kept under wraps to prevent the Soviet Union from knowing of its existence. An experimental stealth reconnaissance aircraft was built known as the A-12 and after refining the technology, it was perfected as the RS-71 Blackbird.
In 1964 as President Lyndon Johnson was running for reelection he was criticized by his political rival Barry Goldwater for letting America’s technology lag behind the Soviet Union. Knowing that the Presidency was at stake, Johnson forced his own hand and made the decision to declassify the A-12 and RS-71 Blackbird program.
However, during this speech, President Johnson misspoke instead, called the A-12 the “A-11” and called the RS-71 the “SR-71” Blackbird. Knowing that the election was at risk the Air Force changed the official designation of the Blackbird from RS-71 to SR-71. They even went so far as to edit all the service manuals and republish nearly 30,000 pages with the SR-71 designation to avoid President Johnson any embarrassment.
The defining moment where the President announced the most advanced aircraft in history and threw it off by not saying the letters in the correct order. That is the reason it is known as the SR-71 Blackbird, you can view President Johnson’s speech in this clip.