51 years later and the SR-71 Blackbird is still the fastest plane ever built. Here's how it works.

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Dec 22, 2014, 11:28 AM EST (Updated)

It’s hard to believe, but a plane from 1964 is still the fastest aircraft ever built. In 51 years, we still haven’t been able to top the SR-71 Blackbird. So what makes it so special?

Today is the 51st anniversary of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird’s first-ever flight, and the perfect time to take a peek into aviation history and see what makes the half-century old plane so darn fast. Even after all these years, the Mach 3+ Blackbird still holds the record as the world’s fastest plane, at 2,193 mph (3,530 kph). It also, you know, looks insanely cool.

The secret lies in the Blackbird’s “engine nacelle,” specifically the bypass tubes that kick on when the plane passes Mach 2.2, which funnel air to the afterburner and allow it to run with much higher efficiency, which ramps up the speed without burning through all the fuel. Basically, it’s all about how air flows through the plane.

Check out a breakdown of how the engine works below, and geek out at the face-melting speed:

(Via Sploid)

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