One is a futuristic harbinger of airborne death and the other is built by the same people that gave us the Qashqai. Yes, they may seem quite different but the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and the Nissan DeltaWing have more in common than one might assume.
Both of these rather experimental vehicles feature a pointy-nosed delta wing design and both offer extreme performance. Both are also highly desirable, so if for some reason they both popped up in your local used car lot, which should you go for — the £40,000 racing car or the £30m war bird? We’ve driven neither but we’re going to pass judgement anyway.
The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird is an intimidating sight. Whether seen in a museum or glimpsed momentarily cruising above your soon to be flattened village, there’s no denying it’s one of the meanest-looking vehicles mankind has ever produced.
Don’t be fooled by the Blackbird’s looks. It was designed as an unarmed strategic reconnaissance spy plane, which means it prowls the skies looking for things it would like to destroy. However, because it packs no weapons of its own, it has to fly home to report any dangers it has spotted, meaning it’s no deadlier than a carrier pigeon.
The Nissan DeltaWing looks remarkably similar to the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. It uses the same cigar-shaped body section and delta wing design which, in this case, helps facilitate downforce instead of lift. It’s absolutely useless for flying and doesn’t carry any weapons so it’s just as rubbish as the SR-71 Blackbird at blowing things up.
We’re not sure it’s any good at defending itself from attack, either. While the Blackbird has myriad anti-missile defence systems (mostly its ability to speed up and escape anytihg coming towards it) the DeltaWing can be bullied off the road by just about anything.
Best for killing things with: SR-71 Blackbird (just)
The SR-71 Blackbird is the fastest air-breathing manned jet in the world. It flies at altitudes of up to 85,000 feet and reaches speeds of 2,224mph, exceeding Mach 3 or 3 times the speed of sound — that’s faster than a speeding bullet.
Ask it to turn a corner, however, and you’re writing your own suicide note. Blackbird pilots were warned explicitely not to attempt high-alpha, or high angle of attack, turns exceeding 3 times the force of gravity. Get flashy with your SR-71 and the chances are your exuberant turning manoeuvre would starve the jet engines of oxygen, resulting in flameout. That’s a bad thing in case you’re wondering.
This mixed performance capability was compounded by the fact the Blackbird lacked an Internet connection. It had no built-in dataline, which meant it could not relay images and radar data back to friendly forces in real time. There was always a substantial delay in any Blackbird mission because it always had to flying to its target, capture the data, fly home and have the data processed. Today, satellites do its job in seconds.
The Nissan DeltaWing is perhaps more effective at doing the job it was created for. Its pointy snout delivers considerably less drag than most racing vehicles, enabling it to cut through the air with ease. It’ll do 0-60mph in 3.3 seconds — faster than any road-going Ferrari — and will keep going until it hits 196mph. And it does all this using an engine that has a lot in common with the one you’d find in a Nissan Juke. To get an ordinary car to go as fast would require an engine that delivers around twice the 300bhp required by the DeltaWing.
Unlike the Blackbird, the DeltaWing isn’t shy of turning. Its twin vortex underbody downforce system uses boundary layer adhesion technology that means it stays glued to the road even if cars up ahead are disrupting the flow of air in front of it. We’ve no idea how hard the DeltaWing will corner, but bearing in mind Formula 1 cars can pull in excess of 6 lateral g, we’re pretty certain the DeltaWing is, relatively speaking, more chuckable than a Blackbird.
Best for performance: Nissan DeltaWing (probably)
The SR-71 uses jet fuel like George Michael visits public lavatories. It has six separate fuel tanks, but even these aren’t sufficient for it to fly a worldwide mission. In order for it to get around, it has to be followed by a dedicated fleet of modified Boeing KC-135Q refuelling tankers, which themselves require inordinate amounts of fuel to get about. In total, running a Blackbird will set you back around $50,000. Every hour.
Refuelling costs were the least of the SR-71’s concerns. The program was threatened several times due to the fact the planes themselves were incredibly expensive to maintain. According to estimates, the cost of keeping a fleet of Blackbirds from rusting away reached $270m per year.
The Nissan DeltaWing, in contrast, is incredibly cheap to run — mostly because it’s a car and not a giant reconnaissance jet. The DeltaWing is half the weight of a Le Mans LMP1 car, against which it is designed to race. And the reduced drag allowed by its pointy nose and delta wing design, plus its skinny tyres, allows it to cut through the air with the minimum of fuss and refuelling outlay
According to Nissan, the DeltaWing car has half the fuel consumption of a standard Le Mans car, as well as half the tyre wear. Also, it should only cost around £40,000 to build, which is less than a third the price of road cars that deliver equivalent performance.
Best for running costs: Nissan DeltaWing
The Blackbird has a solid reliability record. 50 of the aircraft were built and of those 50, a sum total of zero aircraft have been shot down. That’s not to say the enemy hasn’t been trying — over 1,000 missiles have been fired at SR-71 aircraft, but not a single one has hit its target. If the plane detects a threat, the pilot’s simply has to speed up a bit in order to outrun any threat.
That’s not to say the Blackbird’s reliability was perfect. Of the 50 aircraft that were built, 20 were destroyed in accidents. Some were lost as a result of failing fuel gauges, which meant they ran out of juice mid-flight; some fell out of the sky due to incorrect wiring of stability systems; some exploded due to fuel line fractures; one plane’s anti-skid braking system failed, causing it to career off the end of a runway and another stalled in mid-air and exploded. If you flew an SR-71, there was a strong chance you’d have some sort of mishap not involving the enemy
The Nissan DeltaWing, hasn’t been around for long, but every single one that has entered a competition (that’s a sum total of one if you’re wondering) has crashed while racing. A DeltaWing had been running for an impressive six hours straight, but contact with an over-zealous Toyoa LMP1 car at the Posche Curves catapulted driver Satoshia Motoyama off the track.
Motoyama spent 90 minutes heroically trying to repair the DeltaWing (only drivers may attempt on-track repairs) to no avail. To be fair, the car could probably have been fixed if mechanics were allowed to get their hands on it, but the best they could do was shout instructions from a nearby fence.
Best for reliability: Nissan DeltaWing
All things considered, the clear winner of this head to head is the Nissan DeltaWing. Sure, it has a lot going against it: it borrows heavily from the SR-71’s design yet can’t manage supersonic flight; it has never finished a mission successfully, crashing out in its only race; and is woefully inadequate when it comes to scaring insurgents, but it has a lot going for it.
It’s incredibly cheap for what it is, is fabulously efficient compared to other road-going vehicles of this sort and is relatively easy to maintain. Hell, some would argue that its lack of missiles, guns or bombs makes it just as deadly in combat situations as a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
For these reasons we believe the Nissan DeltaWing is the superior vehicle in this head-to-head and the one with the most potential. If somebody tries to flog you a used Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, tell them to naff off and grab yourself a Nissan DeltaWing instead.
Winner: Nissan Deltawing