How the SR-71 Blackbird came to be based in Britain

It is now half a century since the first visit by a Lockheed SR-71 to UK shores, and the start of a link between Britain and ‘Blackbird’ that came almost to define the height of the Anglo-American bond. But the road to US Air Force SR-71 operations from Mildenhall was not always a smooth one 

Just two years earlier, it wouldn’t have been allowed. Well, almost. A US Air Force Lockheed SR-71A could still have set a speed record between New York and London, but ending the flight in a blaze of publicity at the Farnborough show: no way. Not British enough, you see. Even after a recent relaxation, the Society of British Aerospace Companies’ myopic insistence that aircraft participating in its biennial ‘shop window’ have substantial UK content would have kept this most spectacular exhibit out. But in 1974, finally Farnborough went fully international, so ‘Kelly’ Johnson’s unmistakeable shape settled onto the Hampshire aerodrome’s wet tarmac, and entered the history books.

This was more than

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