Wednesday-Sunday 10am to 4pm

Back to all Aircraft

D-21 Drone

D-21 Drone at the Pacific Coast Air Museum. A black cylindrical airplane with no cockpit, and with two small wings and a small vertical tail. A cone-shaped projection protrudes from the air intake at front.
D-21 Drone on the field at the Pacific Coast Air Museum. Once a highly classified strategic reconnaissance project, the D-21 Drone project was known to only a comparative few within the military during the 1960s.
D-21 drone on the field at the Pacific Coast Air Museum.
The D-21 was designed to fly in excess of Mach 3. It was to penetrate enemy airspace, take a series of photographs, then return to friendly airspace and jettison its payload of film. The Drone would then self-destruct.
D-21 Drone on the field at the Pacific Coast Air Museum, viewed from behind and to the right.
The D-21 was intended to be carried near its target on the back of an M-21 mother ship. The M-21 was a development of the A-12, which was the forerunner of the SR-71 Blackbird.
In-flight photo of M-21 mother ship which looks like an SR-71 Blackbird, carrying a D-21 drone on its back. View is from the front and above, and a layer of clouds can be seen below.
The M-21 mother ship was a modified A-12 spy plane, the forerunner of the SR-71 Blackbird. This arrangement, where the D-21 is carried on the M-21's back, was a failure. The drones could not be released safely at operational speeds, and one test ended in the destruction of both aircraft and the death of one of the A-12 crew.
Photo, taken from the ground, of an M-21 with a D-21 on its back. Photo is from the rear and slightly to the right.
Another shot of the D-21 on the back of the M-21 mother ship. After this arrangement was proven to be unsafe, the drones were redesigned to be carried under the wings of specially equipped B-52s.
In-flight photo of a B-52 bomber with two D-21 drones, one under each wing. Photo is shot from above and in front of the bomber, with clouds below.
Several operational D-21 missions were conducted, with the drones being dropped from B-52 bombers. The drones penetrated Chinese airspace to capture images of their Lop Nor nuclear test site. The program was only partially successful and was suspended. In all, 38 D-21 Drones were built and 17 still exist.
  • Country of origin:


  • Manufacturer:


  • B/N or Serial #::


  • Type:

    High-altitude reconnaissance aircraft and drone

  • Ownership:

    This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

D-21 Drone II History

From Wikipedia: The Lockheed D-21 was a Mach 3+ reconnaissance drone. The drone was originally designed to be launched off the back of its A-12-based M-21 aircraft. Development began in October 1962. Originally known by the Lockheed designation Q-12, it was intended for reconnaissance missions deep into enemy airspace. The D-21 was designed to carry a single high-resolution photographic camera over a pre-programmed path, then release the camera module into the air for retrieval, followed by the drone’s self-destruct. learn more…

D-21 Drone Specifications


19 ft 1/4 in


42 ft 10 in


7 ft 1/4 in

Launch Weight

11,000 lb

None: Unmanned aerial reconnaissance drone

Maximum speed:

Mach 3.35 (2,210 mph, 1,920 knots, 3,560 km/h)

Service Ceiling:

95,000 ft (29,000 m)


3,000 nmi, 3,450 mi, 5,550 km

One Marquardt RJ43-MA-20S4 ramjet


Dave Sandine

© Copyright 1996 – 2020 Pacific Coast Air Museum 501(c)(3) non-profit. All Rights Reserved.

Privacy Policy / Sitemap / Site Credits