Skip to comments.An SR-71 Blackbird Tail Fin Is For Sale On eBay For $1 Million
Posted on 06/02/2012 6:42:00 PM PDT by DogByte6RER
An SR-71 Blackbird Tail Fin Is For Sale On eBay For $1 Million
A tail rudder from the fastest airplane in the world could be yours for a cool $1 million. The seller didn't say if it was a spare part, or if it was once part of a functioning SR-71 Blackbird, which is an important distinction given the cost.
When it debuted in 1964, the SR-71 Blackbird the mean looking surveillance aircraft that cruised high above the Soviet Union at speeds of up to mach 3.5 cost the U.S. Air Force $34 million per air frame. Do you think this fraction of a supersonic spy plane is worth a fraction of its original cost?
The eBay ad is scant on details, but it doesn't look like the seller, stevessupercoolstuff, has much experience selling aircraft parts. The bulk of his business appears to be lighted crochet hooks, with a smattering of other goodies including a Lyrics of John Lennon book, a W.C. Fields Super 8 comedy film, and a Dwight D. Eisenhower commemorative medal, among other trinkets. But none of the Steve's other merchandise is plastered with that cool 3-foot-tall Lockheed Martin Skunkworks logo.
But whether or not you think the price is right, this orphaned rudder is a window into a different time, a period in American history when the Cold War was at its height and muscle cars were the way to get around. It's fitting then that Lockheed Martin would have designed a spy plane whose defense mechanism was pure speed. It's aviation's equivalent of the Pontiac GTO an airframe designed around two massive engines. If the Soviets lobbed an anti-aircraft missile at one, the Blackbird's pilot could simply out accelerate it.
And the strategy worked. Not one of the 32 SR-71s built in the mid-60s succumbed to enemy fire. That didn't stop the odd training mishap, though. Between 1966 and 1972, 12 were destroyed in crashes with one pilot fatality in 1966. The last one went down in the South China Sea in 1989 after its left engine blew up and damaged the plane's flight controls. Its crew was rescued by a native fishing boat.
Compared to the embarrassment President Eisenhower suffered when the previous generation spy plane the U2, basically a high altitude glider equipped with cameras crash landed in Russia in 1960, the SR-71 was a stunning success. General Curtis LeMay, of "We should bomb Vietnam back into the stoneage" fame, didn't want another Francis Gary Powers-style imbroglio (in other words, military brass couldn't trust the pilots to eat their cyanide tablets like good boys when they were shot down by the commies, they needed to rely upon good technology and gutsy flying).
The SR-71's development also spurred interesting innovations in everything from flight suit and ejection seat design to engine technology. The Blackbird is essentially a terrestrial spaceship, designed to fly at 80,000 feet above sea level not quite outer space, but close to it. When parked on the tarmac, the SR-71 leaked fuel because it was designed to be leak free at altitude. Its pilots wore fully pressurized suits that could withstand the pressure of ejecting at speeds exceeding 2,100 mph. In 1976, Capt. Eldon W. Joersz and Maj. George T. Morgan set the speed record for normally aspirated aircraft (i.e. planes that weren't rocket-powered), hitting a blistering mach 3.5.
So if you're into muscle cars, Cold War memorabilia or just need a cool wall hanger in your living room and have $1 million to part with maybe you can grab this piece of aviation history.
Correction noted. Probably was this plane
Even if it’s genuine, it’s absolutely useless without the rest of the plane.
Its simply CRAZY how far advanced and ahead of its time this thing is, at least mechanically. And to think they did all of this without modern computers... wow. It is still one of the most amazing looking airplanes of all time. I am in love.
Correction, 1964. Simply amazing still.
I was a Navy Viet ling monitoring the NVN air forces. We got advance notice of SR-71 flights out of Okinawa. We watched the NVN track it as it went West across the South China Sea and two minutes later it was over Laos after having crossed North Vietnam, easily 5.3 Mach. We also tried to figure out the speed and were astounded.
The blackbird carried photographic equipment which ran continuously and could produce images from 100K feet which could be deciphered and yield the exact height of a person or the license number of a vehicle even through clouds. That was in the latter ‘60’s!
I’m glad some one can confirm what my teacher witnessed on his radar. I read on a wiki somewhere that the J-58s could theoretically push the SR-71 to about Mach 5.0.
It is amazing what our technology could do in the 50s and 60s. Just imagine what our most advanced stuff can do today.
Check out the sellers “other items” - crochet hooks!!!
that is amazing.
Hell,I feel the g's when grabbing the throttle and going wide open to 115 in a few seconds.
a mile per second is truly impressive.
I can just picture the pilots bwahahahha'ing when someone shoots up a missile, which they are twice as fast as!
Probably nowhere near as well. In the 60s we could go to the moon. Now we rent passenger seats from the Russians to go to get to low earth orbit.
You can’t have a Habu thread without Brian Shul’s Sled Driver stories.
There were a lot of things we couldn’t do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. Even cerebral. But there was one day in our Sled experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fastest guys out there, at least for a moment.
It occurred when Walt and I were flying our final training sortie. We needed 100 hours in the jet to complete our training and attain Mission Ready status. Somewhere over Colorado we had passed the century mark. We had made the turn in Arizona and the jet was performing flawlessly. My gauges were wired in the front seat and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be flying real missions but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane in the past ten months. Ripping across the barren deserts 80,000 feet below us, I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. I was, finally, after many humbling months of simulators and study, ahead of the jet.
I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital. It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the radios, as during my entire flying career I had controlled my own transmissions. But it was part of the division of duties in this plane and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn’t match my expertise at sounding smooth on the radios, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in fighter squadrons where the slightest radio miscue was grounds for beheading. He understood that and allowed me that luxury. Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him. The predominant radio chatter was from Los Angeles Center, far below us, controlling daily traffic in their sector. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uncontrolled airspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to descend into their airspace.
We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed.
Center replied: “November Charlie 175, I’m showing you at ninety knots on the ground.”
Now the thing to understand about Center controllers, was that whether they were talking to a rookie pilot in a Cessna, or to Air Force One, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional, tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the “HoustonCenterVoice.” I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country’s space program and listening to the calm and distinct voice of the HoustonCenterControllers, that all other controllers since then wanted to sound like that... and that they basically did. And it didn’t matter what sector of the country we would be flying in, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to pilots everywhere. Conversely, over the years, pilots always wanted to ensure that, when transmitting, they sounded like Chuck Yeager, or at least like John Wayne. Better to die than sound bad on the radios.
Just moments after the Cessna’s inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his ground speed.
“Ah, Twin Beach: I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed.”
Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren.
Then out of the blue, a Navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency. You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radios.
“Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check.”
Before Center could reply, I’m thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a readout? Then I got it — ol’ Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is. He’s the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet.
And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion:
“Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground.”
And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what? As my hand instinctively reached for the mic button, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the radios. Still, I thought, it must be done — in mere seconds we’ll be out of the sector and the opportunity will be lost. That Hornet must die, and die now.
I thought about all of our Sim training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the radios now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn. Somewhere, 13 miles above Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his space helmet.
Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke:
“Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?”
There was no hesitation, and the reply came as if was an everyday request:
“Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground.”
I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling. But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot-like voice:
“Ah, Center, much thanks. We’re showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money.”
For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the HoustonCentervoice, when L.A. came back with,
“Roger that Aspen, Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one.”
It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day’s work.
We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast. For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there.
In April 1986, following an attack on American soldiers in a Berlin disco, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Muammar Qaddafi’s terrorist camps in Libya. My duty was to fly over Libya and take photos recording the damage our F-111’s had inflicted. Qaddafi had established a “line of death,” a territorial marking across the Gulf of Sidra, swearing to shoot down any intruder that crossed the boundary. On the morning of April 15, I rocketed past the line at 2,125 mph.
I was piloting the SR-71 spy plane, the world’s fastest jet, accompanied by Maj Walter Watson, the aircraft’s reconnaissance systems officer (RSO). We had crossed into Libya and were approaching our final turn over the bleak desert landscape when Walter informed me that he was receiving missile launch signals. I quickly increased our speed, calculating the time it would take for the weapons-most likely SA-2 and SA-4 surface-to-air missiles capable of Mach 5 - to reach our altitude. I estimated that we could beat the rocket-powered missiles to the turn and stayed our course, betting our lives on the plane’s performance.
With the Libyan coast fast approaching now, Walt asks me for the third time, if I think the jet will get to the speed and altitude we want in time. I tell him yes. I know he is concerned. He is dealing with the data; that’s what engineers do, and I am glad he is. But I have my hands on the stick and throttles and can feel the heart of a thoroughbred, running now with the power and perfection she was designed to possess. I also talk to her. Like the combat veteran she is, the jet senses the target area and seems to prepare herself.
For the first time in two days, the inlet door closes flush and all vibration is gone. We’ve become so used to the constant buzzing that the jet sounds quiet now in comparison. The Mach correspondingly increases slightly and the jet is flying in that confidently smooth and steady style we have so often seen at these speeds. We reach our target altitude and speed, with five miles to spare. Entering the target area, in response to the jet’s new-found vitality, Walt says, “That’s amazing” and with my left hand pushing two throttles farther forward, I think to myself that there is much they don’t teach in engineering school.
Out my left window, Libya looks like one huge sandbox. A featureless brown terrain stretches all the way to the horizon. There is no sign of any activity. Then Walt tells me that he is getting lots of electronic signals, and they are not the friendly kind. The jet is performing perfectly now, flying better than she has in weeks. She seems to know where she is. She likes the high Mach, as we penetrate deeper into Libyan airspace. Leaving the footprint of our sonic boom across Benghazi, I sit motionless, with stilled hands on throttles and the pitch control, my eyes glued to the gauges.
Only the Mach indicator is moving, steadily increasing in hundredths, in a rhythmic consistency similar to the long distance runner who has caught his second wind and picked up the pace. The jet was made for this kind of performance and she wasn’t about to let an errant inlet door make her miss the show. With the power of forty locomotives, we puncture the quiet African sky and continue farther south across a bleak landscape.
Walt continues to update me with numerous reactions he sees on the DEF panel. He is receiving missile tracking signals. With each mile we traverse, every two seconds, I become more uncomfortable driving deeper into this barren and hostile land. I am glad the DEF panel is not in the front seat. It would be a big distraction now, seeing the lights flashing. In contrast, my cockpit is “quiet” as the jet purrs and relishes her new-found strength, continuing to slowly accelerate.
The spikes are full aft now, tucked twenty-six inches deep into the nacelles. With all inlet doors tightly shut, at 3.24 Mach, the J-58s are more like ramjets now, gulping 100,000 cubic feet of air per second. We are a roaring express now, and as we roll through the enemy’s backyard, I hope our speed continues to defeat the missile radars below. We are approaching a turn, and this is good. It will only make it more difficult for any launched missile to solve the solution for hitting our aircraft.
I push the speed up at Walt’s request. The jet does not skip a beat, nothing fluctuates, and the cameras have a rock steady platform. Walt received missile launch signals. Before he can say anything else, my left hand instinctively moves the throttles yet farther forward. My eyes are glued to temperature gauges now, as I know the jet will willingly go to speeds that can harm her. The temps are relatively cool and from all the warm temps we’ve encountered thus far, this surprises me but then, it really doesn’t surprise me. Mach 3.31 and Walt is quiet for the moment.
I move my gloved finder across the small silver wheel on the autopilot panel which controls the aircraft’s pitch. With the deft feel known to Swiss watchmakers, surgeons, and “dinosaurs” (old- time pilots who not only fly an airplane but “feel it”), I rotate the pitch wheel somewhere between one-sixteenth and one-eighth inch location, a position which yields the 500-foot-per-minute climb I desire. The jet raises her nose one-sixth of a degree and knows, I’ll push her higher as she goes faster. The Mach continues to rise, but during this segment of our route, I am in no mood to pull throttles back.
Walt’s voice pierces the quiet of my cockpit with the news of more missile launch signals. The gravity of Walter’s voice tells me that he believes the signals to be a more valid threat than the others. Within seconds he tells me to “push it up” and I firmly press both throttles against their stops. For the next few seconds, I will let the jet go as fast as she wants. A final turn is coming up and we both know that if we can hit that turn at this speed, we most likely will defeat any missiles. We are not there yet, though, and I’m wondering if Walt will call for a defensive turn off our course.
With no words spoken, I sense Walter is thinking in concert with me about maintaining our programmed course. To keep from worrying, I glance outside, wondering if I’ll be able to visually pick up a missile aimed at us. Odd are the thoughts that wander through one’s mind in times like these. I found myself recalling the words of former SR-71 pilots who were fired upon while flying missions over North Vietnam. They said the few errant missile detonations they were able to observe from the cockpit looked like implosions rather than explosions. This was due to the great speed at which the jet was hurling away from the exploding missile.
I see nothing outside except the endless expanse of a steel blue sky and the broad patch of tan earth far below. I have only had my eyes out of the cockpit for seconds, but it seems like many minutes since I have last checked the gauges inside. Returning my attention inward, I glance first at the miles counter telling me how many more to go, until we can start our turn. Then I note the Mach, and passing beyond 3.45, I realize that Walter and I have attained new personal records. The Mach continues to increase. The ride is incredibly smooth.
There seems to be a confirmed trust now, between me and the jet; she will not hesitate to deliver whatever speed we need, and I can count on no problems with the inlets. Walt and I are ultimately depending on the jet now - more so than normal - and she seems to know it. The cooler outside temperatures have awakened the spirit born into her years ago, when men dedicated to excellence took the time and care to build her well. With spikes and doors as tight as they can get, we are racing against the time it could take a missile to reach our altitude.
It is a race this jet will not let us lose. The Mach eases to 3.5 as we crest 80,000 feet. We are a bullet now - except faster. We hit the turn, and I feel some relief as our nose swings away from a country we have seen quite enough of. Screaming past Tripoli, our phenomenal speed continues to rise, and the screaming Sled pummels the enemy one more time, laying down a parting sonic boom. In seconds, we can see nothing but the expansive blue of the Mediterranean. I realize that I still have my left hand full-forward and we’re continuing to rocket along in maximum afterburner.
The TDI now shows us Mach numbers, not only new to our experience but flat out scary. Walt says the DEF panel is now quiet, and I know it is time to reduce our incredible speed. I pull the throttles to the min ‘burner range and the jet still doesn’t want to slow down. Normally the Mach would be affected immediately, when making such a large throttle movement. But for just a few moments old 960 just sat out there at the high Mach, she seemed to love and like the proud Sled she was, only began to slow when we were well out of danger. I loved that jet.
So it was with great surprise, when at the end of one of my presentations, someone asked, what was the slowest you ever flew the Blackbird? This was a first. After giving it some thought, I was reminded of a story that I had never shared before, and relayed the following.
I was flying the SR-71 out of RAF Mildenhall, England , with my back-seater, Walt Watson; we were returning from a mission over Europe and the Iron Curtain when we received a radio transmission from home base. As we scooted across Denmark in three minutes, we learned that a small RAF base in the English countryside had requested an SR-71 fly-past. The air cadet commander there was a former Blackbird pilot, and thought it would be a motivating moment for the young lads to see the mighty SR-71 perform a low approach. No problem, we were happy to do it. After a quick aerial refueling over the North Sea , we proceeded to find the small airfield.
Walter had a myriad of sophisticated navigation equipment in the back seat, and began to vector me toward the field. Descending to subsonic speeds, we found ourselves over a densely wooded area in a slight haze. Like most former WWII British airfields, the one we were looking for had a small tower and little surrounding infrastructure. Walter told me we were close and that I should be able to see the field, but I saw nothing.
Nothing but trees as far as I could see in the haze. We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from 325 knots we were at. With the gear up, anything under 275 was just uncomfortable. Walt said we were practically over the fieldyet; there was nothing in my windscreen. I banked the jet and started a gentle circling maneuver in hopes of picking up anything that looked like a field. Meanwhile, below, the cadet commander had taken the cadets up on the catwalk of the tower in order to get a prime view of the fly-past. It was a quiet, still day with no wind and partial gray overcast.
Walter continued to give me indications that the field should be below us but in the overcast and haze, I couldn’t see it.. The longer we continued to peer out the window and circle, the slower we got. With our power back, the awaiting cadets heard nothing. I must have had good instructors in my flying career, as something told me I better cross-check the gauges. As I noticed the airspeed indicator slide below 160 knots, my heart stopped and my adrenalin-filled left hand pushed two throttles full forward. At this point we weren’t really flying, but were falling in a slight bank. Just at the moment that both afterburners lit with a thunderous roar of flame (and what a joyous feeling that was) the aircraft fell into full view of the shocked observers on the tower
Shattering the still quiet of that morning, they now had 107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their face as the plane leveled and accelerated, in full burner, on the tower side of the infield, closer than expected, maintaining what could only be described as some sort of ultimate knife-edge pass. Quickly reaching the field boundary, we proceeded back to Mildenhall without incident. We didn’t say a word for those next 14 minutes.
After landing, our commander greeted us, and we were both certain he was reaching for our wings. Instead, he heartily shook our hands and said the commander had told him it was the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen, especially how we had surprised them with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as breathtaking. He said that some of the cadets hats were blown off and the sight of the plan form of the plane in full afterburner dropping right in front of them was unbelievable. Walt and I both understood the concept of breathtaking very well that morning, and sheepishly replied that they were just excited to see our low approach.
As we retired to the equipment room to change from space suits to flight suits, we just sat there-we hadn’t spoken a word since the pass. Finally, Walter looked at me and said, One hundred fifty-six knots.
What did you see? Trying to find my voice, I stammered, One hundred fifty-two. We sat in silence for a moment. Then Walt said, Dont ever do that to me again! And I never did.
A year later, Walter and I were having lunch in the Mildenhall Officers club, and overheard an officer talking to some cadets about an SR-71 fly-past that he had seen one day. Of course, by now the story included kids falling off the tower and screaming as the heat of the jet singed their eyebrows. Noticing our HABU patches, as we stood there with lunch trays in our hands, he asked us to verify to the cadets that such a thing had occurred. Walt just shook his head and said, It was probably just a routine low approach; they’re pretty impressive in that plane. Impressive indeed.
A U2 “crash landed” in Russia? Seriously?
Is the author making up history or did he actually have a teacher that filled his unquestioning head with this mush?
I grew up learning the story and biography of Francis Gary Powers. After his release he was a KNBC 4 Los Angeles newscopter pilot until his helo crashed and he died.
I remember watching the local KNBC newscast when anchor Jess Marlowe reported the tragic news.
There is a whole bird on display at the KS Cosmosphere in Hutchinson KS.
it is really neat to see.
they had to build the building to be able to take it out in case the Govt wanted it back....
There is a whole bird on display at the KS Cosmosphere in Hutchinson KS.
it is really neat to see.
they had to build the building to be able to take it out in case the Govt wanted it back....
Like all SR-71s with tail numbers below 958, 955 was never used for any operational missions. The first 6 SR-71As were retained by the Air Force and Lockheed (3 each) as flight test aircraft, where new systems and configurations would be tested before being applied to the rest of the fleet. The next two aircraft produced (956 and 957) were both SR-71B trainers, and were never flown outside of the United States.