The X-Jet is a surprisingly recognizable image from the X-Men comic books. It may not be as iconic as Wolverine's claws, Magneto's helmet or Professor X's magnificent bald head, but the Blackbird does have its share of fans, even though it hardly qualifies as a superhero. Truth be told, it's basically just a glorified flying bus, shuttling the X-Men wherever the plot needs them to be. But, man oh man, does it do that in style or what?!
Sleek and futuristic, the X-Jet quickly became a feature of the X-Men film franchise as well, appearing in most of the movies made throughout the last two decades. With that in mind, we're focusing today on something a bit different from the super heroes and super villains usually featured in Screen Rant lists. Fasten your seat belts, because today we're taking a look at 15 Things You Need To Know About The Blackbird Jet.
Most of you probably know this, but it's nevertheless worth pointing out: the X-Jet is based on a real airplane - Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. This high-speed high-attitude reconnaissance jet was designed in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War as a black project by Lockheed's "Skunk Works" division. It was a successor of an earlier reconnaissance jet Lockheed U2 that infamously got shot down in May of 1960 during its surveillance flight over the Soviet Union.
Designed by aerospace engineer Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, Blackbird is a Space Age airplane if there ever was one. It was tested in Area 51. Its pilots had to wear space suits to withstand high-attitude conditions. In July of 1976, SR-71 piloted by Capt. Robert Holt broke the absolute altitude record, flying at 85,069 feet (25,929 m). On the same day, another SR-71 officially broke the world speed record by flying 2,193.2 mph (3,529.6 km/h) - a record that stood unchallenged for almost forty years.
A quick look at the Wikipedia tells us there have been, so far, nine movies in the X-Men franchise. Seven of them feature some version of the X-Jet: X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, X-Men: Apocalypse and Deadpool.
For comparison, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen/Sophie Turner) and Beast (Kelsey Grammer/Nicholas Hoult) appear in only four movies each. Poor Rogue (Anna Paquin) gets to appear in only three movies since her role was mostly cut out of Days of Future Past. Our favorite mutant rights activist/terrorist Magneto (Ian McKellen/Michael Fassbender) as well as his right hand woman Mystique (Rebecca Romijn/Jennifer Lawrence) feature in six movies each. It's only Professor X (Patrick Stewart/James McAvoy) who appears in X-Men movies as often as his personal super jet, and Hugh Jackman's Wolverine may be the only mutant to appear in more movies than the Blackbird, at eight - nine next year. For a CGI special effect, X-Men Blackbird is practically a blockbuster superstar!
Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters is situated on a large secluded estate in the upstate New York. It's a perfect hiding spot for mutants: a place when they can study, learn about their powers and socialize with the others of their kind. So far, so good. But how do you hide a whole airplane there?
Luckily, the X-Men Blackbird has an ability to take-off and land vertically, which means that it needs a very short landing strip. Its hangar is hidden underground, together with all the other high-tech facilities used by the X-Men. Originally, the X-Jet used The Devil's Rock as its exit and entry point. Later on, the landing strip was relocated and hidden underneath the school's basketball court, which makes for a cool visual in the movies. However, one has to wonder about the sheer number of basketballs that fell in the underground hangar and got incinerated by the Blackbird's jet engines.
Although the X-Men originally use only one X-Jet Blackbird, later they build an entire fleet of these highly advanced aircraft. This is hardly surprising considering what happens to a number of them, but we'll examine that fact soon enough below.
While the original X-Men Blackbird was... well, let's just say borrowed under questionable circumstances, later Blackbird jets were actually bought. Professor X apparently really likes them because he manages to fill up an entire hangar with them! After Professor X decides to rebrand the X-Men as a public team and establishes the X-Corp, he orders a number of customized Blackbird jets with a X logo across the top. Later, Chinese mutant Kuan-Yin Xorn destroys the Xavier mansion while impersonating Magneto (Or was it the other way around? These X-Men comic books can really get confusing!). Anyways, the School gets destroyed, but the Beast rebuilds the underground facilities while Cyclops tasks Angel to purchase new Blackbirds for the X-Men.
In the comic books as well as in the movies, X-Jet is usually flown by either Cyclops or Storm. Not only that, but some versions of the X-Men Blackbird - remember, there is more than one! - have been equipped with special modifications for these two particular mutants.
This is why in some stories, the Blackbird has a special platform that can be opened mid-flight. Storm can then use that platform to create thunder clouds with her weather-controlling powers, which is pretty cool. But Cyclops can do something even better. Some versions of the Blackbird have been fitted with a specially-made ruby quartz windshield. This allows Cyclops to not only use his optic blast without a visor but to magnify its power many times over. Essentially, an entire X-Jet can be turned into a giant version of Cyclops's visor. and if that's not awesome, than we don't know what is!
It's interesting to note that the X-Men did use other aircraft before acquiring their first Blackbird. In the early comic books as well as in the prequel movies such as X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, we can see the X-Men traveling the globe in Professor X's private jet as well as in the helicopter (called the X-Copter). Both of these aircraft are pretty conventional, with their most advanced feature being auto pilot systems that can be controlled remotely by Professor X without him ever leaving the X-Men Mansion.
Later, X-Men start using the Stratojet - a specially made jet airplane equipped with Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) systems and capable of diving under water. In an early nod to SR-71 Blackbird, the Stratojet was variously referred to in the comic books as "SR-73", "SR-77" or "SR-70". The Stratojet was later destroyed by Count Luchino Nefaria, a power-hungry Italian super-villain who used his inheritance and fortune to artificially gain super powers.
In the Ultimate X-Men comic book series, launched in February of 2001, the X-Men are shown using several different aircraft. While one of them is very similar to SR-71 Blackbird, the X-Men are also shown flying around in an airplane that greatly resembles a B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The fact that the comic book refers to it as "the X-Wing" is a nice nod towards Star Wars.
Similarly, in the opening to the movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, we get to see an equally impressive, futuristic version of the X-Men Blackbird. This version of the X-jet is used by the movie's protagonists in their desperate fight against merciless Sentinel robots in the dystopian alternate future of 2023. The futuristic X-Jet features a variable-sweep wing allowing the airplane to change its shape to achieve greater velocities. It's a shame, really, that the airplane later gets destroyed in the movie.
So how did Professor X got his hands on one of these beauties? In the alternate history of Marvel comic books, Blackbird was never developed as a part of the United States reconnaissance program. Instead, its design was bought from Lockheed by SHIELD. Because, of course it was! Mind you, it's worth pointing out that the comic book version of SR-71 is actually a big larger than the real one. This version of Blackbird can carry a flight crew of 3 and up to 4 passengers.
Anyways, during the attack of an ancient mystical entity known as Adversary, millions of people watched on TV as X-Men fought against it in Dallas, Texas. As X-Men seemingly gave their lives to save humankind, Nightcrawler used this dramatic distraction to teleport into the Skunk Works, sneak into one of the Blackbirds and fly away in one of the world's most expensive aircrafts.
Or, at least, that's one version of the story.
Directed by Mathew Vaughn, X-Men: First Class is a 2011 prequel that freely uses, changes and remixes various elements from the X-Men origin stories. Set around the time of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, it follows Professor Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr as they learn to use their powers and establish their own groups: first the X-Men and then the Brotherhood of Mutants. And it's not only the mutants who get their origin stories, but the X-Jet as well!
In X-Men: First Class, the original SR-71 was designed by none other than Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). Before McCoy became the Beast, he worked for the CIA on one of their black projects, designing a high-attitude, high-speed, nearly invisible super jet. It's McCoy who helps the X-Men acquire an advanced version of SR-71 and get to Cuba in time to prevent Sebastian Shaw's (Kevin Bacon) Hellfire Club from starting World War III.
The original Lockheed SR-71 may have been one of the most advanced airplanes of its times, but that just wasn't good enough for the X-Men. Indeed, in the comics, Professor X tasks a mutant called Forge to vastly improve the original design. Forge is a mutant who can envision and build any kind of mechanical device imaginable. Originally trained to become a shaman of his Native American tribe, Forge defies his elders and enlists in the US Army where his talent with machinery proves highly valuable.
After Forge barely survives the Vietnam War, he joins the X-Men. He designs and manufactures the new X-Jet in its entirety inside the hidden facility underneath the X-Men Mansion. His version of the X-Jet is built out of the foamed titanium-lithium alloy and features VTOL capabilities as well as a number of defensive electronic countermeasure devices. And if that's not good enough for you...
The X-Men have had a number of encounters with the Shi'ar ever since these powerful aliens made their first appearance on the pages of X-Men #97 in February 1976. This proud and ancient race of an avian descent hails from the planet Chandilar. Shi'ar Empire - also known as the Aerie - is spread across the galaxy, encompassing thousands of cultures and races. Ruled over by the Majestor (or Majestrix), Shi'ar Empire is one of the most powerful civilizations in the known universe, alongside the Skrull and Kree Empires.
After several encounters with the Shi'ari, Professor X uses their technology to equip the X-Men Blackbird. He tasks Forge to further improve the new X-Jet design by installing these repurposed alien cloaking devices. With this technology onboard, the X-Men Blackbird becomes the state-of-the art stealth airplane, capable of becoming virtually invisible when faced with the conventional electronic means of detection.
Even the casual fans of the X-Men comic books have heard of Cerebro. This complex electronic device was invented by Professor X and Magneto and then later improved by Dr. Hank McCoy. Main function of Cerebro is to amplify its user's brainwaves. This, in turn, allows Professor X to find any mutant in the area the size of - depending upon the comic book you're reading - continental US, planet Earth or the entire nearby universe.
As such, Cerebro is a pretty useful gadget to have around. It makes sense that Professor X would have one installed aboard the X-Jet Blackbird. Unfortunately, at one point Cerebro accidentally gains consciousness and even a body due to a merging with a swarm of microscopic robots. Calling itself The Founder, Cerebro decides to locate and catalogue every mutant alive. The Fonder is then barely stopped by the X-Men. Since then, Cerebro has been replaced by the more advanced, but slightly less self-aware Cerebra.
Real-life SR-71 Blackbird is so heavy - it weighs over 170,000 pounds - that the manufacturer BF Goodrich had to develop special aluminum-reinforced tires. Even then, their life span was somewhere between 15 and 20 landings. Their cost? A trifle: mere $2,300 per tire.
Blackbird airplanes are insanely expensive to use. Dick Cheney stated in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee that the SR-71 cost $85,000 per hour to operate. The airplane's opponents claimed that logistical support for the Blackbirds cost between $400 and $700 million per year. Apparently, real costs were more along the lines of $300 million per year, which is hardly re-assuring. Even with all the advanced gizmos and mutant powers at Professor X's disposal, the total cost of supporting an entire private fleet of X-Jet Blackbirds would probably be staggering.
Knowing this, one would expect that the X-Men would take a really good care about their aircraft. Well, one would be wrong because...
The X-Men should really be more careful with their high-tech toys. In the comic books, the old X-Men Stratojet survives the annihilation of the entire island of Krakoa, only to get destroyed later by the super-villain Count Nefaria. Another X-Jet is packed with explosives and flown towards the Master Mold, a giant mobile factory that produces mutant-hunting Sentinels.
The X-Men movies are equally cruel towards these amazing aircraft. One Blackbird X-Jet gets disintegrated by Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand after she turns into Dark Phoenix. Its predecessor gets destroyed in X-Men: First Class after Riptide creates an artificial cyclone that slams the airplane onto the Cuban coastline. But the most spectacular destruction of the Blackbird comes in the nightmarish future of Days of Future Past. When Sentinels attack the final mutant stronghold, Magneto flings the X-Jet into them while Storm uses a lightning strike to make it explode.
Both the fictional X-Jet and the real-life SR-71 Blackbird may be prohibitively expensive for us ordinary mortals. But that doesn't mean we can't own one, even if only in a form of a toy! And what better form for a toy X-Jet to take than the one made from LEGO blocks?
Released in 2011, LEGO Blackbird jet is around 2” (6cm) high, 10” (26cm) long and 9” (24cm) wide. It is equipped with three passenger seats (seating Cyclops, Storm and Wolverine) as well as with a small cargo bay. LEGO Blackbird comes in the set with the cutest little minifig of the super villain Magneto as well as with a Sentinel robot in all of its sinister 4” (12cm) glory. Unfortunately, this product was retired some time ago, but it's probably still available from re-sellers on eBay. It's probably expensive but hey, it's still cheaper than the real thing.