The SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71 Blackbird is my favorite plane of all time. Officially it remains the fastest jet to fly the skies despite it being built 60 years ago. It was used during the Vietnam War and the Cold War as a reconnaissance plane before it outlived its usefulness thanks to satellites.

Aeronautical engineer Kelly Johnson was the man responsible for the creation of the Blackbird. He worked for Lockheed Martin designing the U-2 spy plane before beginning his work on the Blackbird. His inspiration for its design, some say, came from UFOs when he saw one in the sky one day.

Although the SR-71’s design is very unique, it wasn’t the first of Kelly’s planes to carry that design. The A-12, the Blackbirds predecessor, was the first plane to use true stealth technology. The contours of the plane and the rumored advanced UFO material used on the plane is what gave the plane its low radar signature.

The Blackbird was built at Lockheed Skunkworks in California but was test flown at Area 51 like the A-12 and U-2. Unlike the Blackbird the U-2 had been shot down twice during its career giving the Blackbird a spotless record to the contrary.

To fly the Blackbird the pilot and the reconnaissance systems officer had to wear pressurized flight suits so their blood wouldn’t boil while flying at 80,000 feet at Mach 3. Even though the plane flew on autopilot it still demanded your constant attention. The plane did not turn like an F-14 Tomcat. So the pilot had to be very careful to stay on course to the intended target. The slightest wrong turn would push the Blackbird hundreds of miles off course.

The skin of the Blackbird had to be made of titanium so it wouldn’t burn up at Mach 3. But some claim another material was used to keep the Blackbird off enemy radar. That material is still unknown today.

Although the Blackbird had flown many missions never being shot down it came close one time flying over North Korea of all places in 1981. Because North Korea is behind the rest of the world in military technology this incident came as a surprise to me. Where did the North Koreans get surface-to-air missiles capable of nearly shooting down the Blackbird? They certainly don’t have fighter jets capable of taking down anything the United States even back in the 1980’s. The only conclusion is the Soviet Union gave them the missiles while they were allies with them.

Only one plane has come close to intercepting the Blackbird and that is the MiG-31. But because the Blackbird was still faster and able to fly higher the MiG never had a chance. That is something to be admired by the Blackbird but you must also give the Russians credit for building a plane that is capable of coming close to the Blackbird’s capabilities.

When satellites had finally replaced the SR-71, NASA had decided to use the aircraft for several years as testbeds for high speed, high altitude aeronautical research. They were not used for reconnaissance missions any longer.

There are now rumors that Blackbird has a successor despite using satellites for reconnaissance. The rumored “Aurora,” which many now claim is either the SR-72 or SR-75 penetrator, is being used in place of the SR-71. Why use this if we are still using satellites?

Satellites may be able to provide images in near-real time but the problem is a satellite’s orbit is fixed and people can work out when it’s coming. And if the area you need to see is not under the satellite at the time you need it, then tough.

The SR-71 can still be beneficial when gathering intelligence on the enemy. You can upgrade its camera technology and transmit all data back to home base in real time with the help of satellites.