Skip to comments.SR-71 Blackbird: The Cold War's ultimate spy plane
Posted on 07/04/2013 3:36:10 PM PDT by sukhoi-30mki
SR-71 Blackbird: The Cold War's ultimate spy plane
Colonel Rich Graham spent 15 years as a Blackbird pilot and wing commander. He told BBC Future some of his incredible stories about the world's fastest plane.
After a Soviet surface-to-air missile battery showdown with a USAF U-2 spy plane near the closed city of Sverdlovsk in 1960, the US government realised they needed a reconnaissance plane that could fly even higher and outrun any missile and fighter launched against it.
The answer was the SR-71 Blackbird. It was closer to a spaceship than an aircraft, made of titanium to withstand the enormous temperatures from flying at 2,200mph (3,540kph). Its futuristic profile made it difficult to detect on radar even the black paint used, full of radar-absorbing iron, helped hide it.
WATCH: How to fly the world's fastest plane
A whole high-tech industry was created to provide the Blackbird's sophisticated parts. For example, the fuel, a high-tech cocktail called JP-7, was made just for the Blackbird.
Based at Beale Air Force Base in California, detachments of the SR-71 flew from Mildenhall in the east of England and from Kadena on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
Just a handful of pilots ever flew the plane. BBC Future interviewed Colonel Rich Graham at Imperial War Museum Duxford, in front of the very plane he used to fly. Here are some of his stories about what it is actually like to fly this top-secret spy plane.
The Soviet Union actually helped build the Blackbird: "The airplane is 92% titanium inside and out. Back when they were building the airplane the United States didn't have the ore supplies - an ore called rutile ore. It's a very sandy soil and it's only found in very few parts of the world. The major
(Excerpt) Read more at bbc.com ...
Inventive engines The plane travelled so fast that the engine inlets needed special inlet spikes to slow down the supersonic air so that it didn't shatter the engines. (Copyright: Stephen Dowling)
Used to watch the SR-71 fly out of the Palmdale, CA ‘skunk works’ facility from my 2nd story condo balcony. Quite a sight!!
If they built this 50 thirty years ago, imagine what they are capable of today.
Really, not with the EPA, NIOSH, and every other alphabet soup apparatchiks clogging up the works so men of science can't perform their black-magic. Unless in the "dark world" they throw out all the crap so the job can get done..
And the coolest looking plane ever.
The Soviet Union actually helped build the Blackbird: "The airplane is 92% titanium inside and out. Back when they were building the airplane the United States didn't have the ore supplies - an ore called rutile ore. It's a very sandy soil and it's only found in very few parts of the world. The major supplier of the ore was the USSR. Working through Third World countries and bogus operations, they were able to get the rutile ore shipped to the United States to build the SR-71."
I doubt regulations get in their way. I don’t recall the number but Clinton issued an executive order that allowed military R&D to get a pass from environmental regs for this sort of thing.
Big irony in the BBC web page name - Future Technology
The future was so much more exciting 50 years ago.
Sad but true.
We called it the Habu
The Pratt & Whitney J58 engines are variable-geometry. Below Mach 1.6, it functions as a regular turbojet. At high speeds, the intake shifts, and turns it into a ramjet.
I always thought that was funny, because not too many years earlier, at an air show at that very same Robins AFB, there was an SR-71 on display, cordoned off, couple of guys with M-16s, signs saying 'Use of deadly force authorized', and the pilot answering every question with 'That's classified'.
Imagine what they're flying today we don't know about.