The D-21 drone was an unpiloted aircraft originally designed for CIA and Air Force surveillance missions over particularly hostile territories. Launched from airborne carrier aircraft, the D-21's Marquardt RJ43-MA-11 ramjet engine propelled it at speeds over 2,000 mph. (3,200 km/h). The two Lockheed M-21 Blackbird "mother ships" were designated M/D-21s when the D-21 "daughter" drone was mounted on top.
The D-21's Mission
During a reconnaissance mission, the D-21 drone would follow a pre-programmed flight path over areas of interest. Then the drone would return to international airspace, where the reconnaissance film package, equipped with its own parachute, was ejected. The package was then recovered in mid-air by a specially equipped airplane or at sea by a ship. Shortly after the film package was jettisoned, the drone self-destructed.
Engineer Ben Rich worked on the D-21 program starting in 1962. Later, when he succeeded Clarence "Kelly" Johnson as the head of Lockheed's secret Skunk Works, he told of a day in the mid-1980s when a CIA man arrived carrying a panel. "Do you recognize this?" Rich did, but he couldn't figure out how the CIA man had gotten it. "It was a Christmas gift from a Soviet KGB agent," the CIA man explained. "He told me it was found by a shepherd in Siberia." The panel was part of a D-21 drone that had disappeared during testing over China in 1969. Hopelessly off course, the D-21 ran out of fuel and crashed in the vast Siberian wilderness.
This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.