M-21 Blackbird

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M-21 #60-6940 in Flight (Photo Courtesy Lockheed Martin)
M-21 #06940 in flight. Lockheed Photo

The M-21 is one of the few projects at the Skunk Works that was relatively unsuccessful. The M-21 is an A-12-like aircraft designed to launch the once ultra-secret D-21 Drone. When the United States signed a treaty to end flights of manned vehicles over the Soviet Union, an unmanned vehicle was needed for reconnaissance. Since the A-12 is an overflight vehicle, it would undermine the treaty if used in the future. Consequently, after A-12 #60-6939 was built, two aircraft called M-21s were built for the TAGBOARD program.

There were two M-21 aircraft built, 60-6940 and 60-6941. Aircraft #60-6941 crashed when the aircraft collided with a D-21 during the launch. This crash ended all M-21 sorties. Later on, the B-52H was used to launch the D-21 drone. The other M-21 is on Display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA.

M-21 Specifications
Manufacturer:Lockheed Aircraft Corporation
Construction:Titanium Monocoque with some super-high-temperature plastics
Width:55 feet 7 inches
Length:102 feet 3 inches
Height:18 feet 6 inches
Landing Weight:52,000 pounds
Maximum Speed:Mach 3.2
Maximum Ceiling:Above 75,000 feet
Powerplant:Two Improved Pratt & Whitney JT11D-20A (J58) increased to 40,000 lbs. of thrust
Crew:2: Pilot and Drone Launch Control Officer
Number built:2