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.
The J-58 was a marvel. From 0 to about 1,100 mph, it operated as a turbojet. At high speed, it operated as a ramjet. In its day, nothing could touch it.
At Beale, we used to watch them take off, down the runway, then straight up till out of sight.
Worked on KC-135Q refueling aircraft.
I’ve seen SR-71s in various states of disassembly during major maintenance operations. Very impressive aircraft.
One maintenance procedure was the “hot gig” test where hydraulic fluid at elevated temperatures (several hundred degrees, to emulate in-flight conditions) is pumped through the system to check for leaks and check for proper hydraulics operation. The mechanics would don metalized suits for protection against the hot fluid. While this was going on one day I recall looking through Lockheed’s Palmdale hangar and seeing a blue haze or smoke rising from the hot gig cart’s heater.
Beale AFB has a great open air display of a couple of vehicles near the flight line. A pylon-mounted Blackbird about 10-15 feet above ground, gear-up flight configuration in a slight bank/nose up attitude, gives real appreciation for its size and form. In its shadow is a D-21 drone (which was originally intended to be launched by the SR-71 predecessor M21 mothership).
Beale and Kadena Okinawa. So THATwas the plane (then) Vice President -to-beBush flew to Paris in!
IIRC when the Smithsonian took delivery of its Blackbird, the plane took off from Edwards AFB (?) flew out over the Pacific and circled back around to head east. Just before hitting the coast line it refueled and when the refueling nozzle detached they pounded the throttle. It landed at Dover AFB less than an hour later.
My BIL was an engineer on the Pratt & Whitney crew that did the R&D for the SR71, and he assured me it went way higher and way faster than they said.
My favorite airplane! I got to work on it in ‘72. Awesome aircraft...
-— If they built this 50 thirty years ago, imagine what they are capable of today. -—
50 years? It doesn’t seem possible. Great stories in the article. Truth is more interesting than fiction.
Can you tell us what Habu was short for?
I mean without having to kill us all, of course...
Does anyone remember the movie D*A*R*Y*L?
Yep - I lived in the Santa Clarita Valley, north of L.A. and pretty much due west of Edwards, and knowing that this was gonna happen, did an "ears up" and heard the sonic boom as it headed back east....never saw it, but did hear it. Ditto with some of the Edwards shuttle landings.
Sorry but they are not nearly as capable. Men like Kelly Johnson only come along once every few generations. Now it is more about project management than results. The can do spirit is nearly dead. No way in hell would the following happen in todays world:
I'm quite sure that many of the craft you are suggesting have been viewed and reported as "UFO's"...and subsequently dismissed by the govt.
1. In his book “Sled Driver”, SR-71/Blackbird pilot Brian Shul writes: I’ll always remember a certain radio exchange that occurred one day as Walt (my back-seater) and I were screaming across Southern California 13 miles high. We were monitoring various radio transmissions from other aircraft as we entered Los Angeles airspace.
Though they didn’t really control us, they did monitor our movement across their scope. I heard a Cessna ask for a readout of its ground speed. “90 knots” Center replied. Moments later a Twin Beech inquired the same. “120 knots,” Center answered.
We weren’t the only ones proud of our ground speed that day...almost instantly an F-18 smugly transmitted, “Uh, Center, Dusty 52 requests ground speed readout.”
There was a slight pause then the response, “525 knots on the ground, Dusty.” Another silent pause. As I was thinking to myself how ripe a situation this was, I heard a familiar click of a radio transmission coming from my back-seater. It was at that precise moment I realized Walt and I had become a real crew for we were both thinking in unison.
“Center, Aspen 20, you got a ground speed readout for us?” There was a longer than normal pause... “Aspen, I show 1,742 knots.” No further inquiries were heard on that frequency.
I’ve seen a couple that made emergency landings at Barksdale in the 70’s. One thing I would love to seen, is the AG-330 start cart spinning up the J58’s
I'm not that man but I was a good friend of one of the pilots of the SR-71.
You wonder what they are doing now? Well thirty years ago they were working on Hyper Sonic. Anyone living in the L.A. Area then should remember the ultra-loud sonic booms on Thursday afternoons.
There was always a lag waiting for the metals to catch up with the engineers design plans.
Those were vary heady days working there then, also there were no Snowden’s working there as they were never compromised.
Habu is a venomous snake found in Asia. Dunno why the name got attached to the plane, maybe the unique shape of the nose/head with the chines reminded someone of the snake.
Saw them at Rome AFB. Now closed. During Egyptian Israeli war. They left at night. Long purple flames. Strutting pilots in chow hall demanded steak for midnight breakfast, and got it.
They left there presumably to take pics of the situation.
Saw them in hanger. Quite impressive.
I have a relative that was in the AF (med tech) at Okinawa when one of them crashed. *Lots* of activity, she said...
Phillipinos thought it looked like a local resident snake called a habu.
That included the US-built SAMs the Israelis were popping off at the unknown aircraft, screaming across battle areas.
By the time the Arab countries were aware of an intruder, it was gone.
Japanese for viper ...
I was assigned to the Military Attache Office in Buenos Aires in the late 80s. The Assistant Air Attache, a Lt. Col, commanded an SR-71 squadron from Beale. Bruce felt that he really was cut out to be a Marine Infantry Officer. The Marine Security Guards just worshipped the dude.
Sorry...There is no longer a "capability" thanks the dumbing-down of American serfs to an intelligence level that, in the 1950's, would have been considered evidence of being brain dead...
The success of the Fabian-controlled government indoctrination systems that replaced the former public schools in the early 70's brilliantly achieved that.
Their success due primarily to those birth parents from the 80' on who meekly turned their offspring over to the government. Ultimately these birth-parents bear the principal responsibility for the final loss of the Constitutional Republic.
The generations of children they forced into the abusive mental indoctrination facilities are the guarantee that Constitutional law & governance can never be peacefully restored.
Really who knows? 90% of what our governments do is completely secr4ete from we citizens.
Absolutely! Why, even the name is racist AND sexist!
I got to the very end of the article and read the author's profile: "Brian Shul spent 20 years as an Air Force fighter pilot, and now is a popular keynote speaker. Shot down in Vietnam, he spent one year in a burn ward. His comeback story culminated with flying the SR-71, which he detailed inSled Driver."
That part about being shot down in Vietnam and being severely burned caught my attention. When my son was about 10 years old (now 22), we went to the Blue Angels show at Fleet Week in San Fran. We stopped at a booth and met an ex-Blue Angels pilot who had been severely burned in Vietnam and wrote a book which my son still has and cherishes:
Turns out it's the very same Brian Shul! He was fantastic with my son and answered all of his questions. Great guy!