The SR-71 Blackbird

It’s called “the Sled” by those who flew it.     They’ve published a couple of coffee table books that are good reading if you enjoy the remarkable achievements of remarkable people who did their visionary planning in the 1950’s and production in the early 1960’s.

The first time I saw the by-then-unclassified Blackbird in flight in the late 1970’s,  I had the feeling I was seeing a black hole in the sky, moving rapidly from right to left. Because we lived for many years within a 30 minute drive of Edwards Air Force in the high desert of California, the Blackbird was among the many phenomenal flight-sights we often saw.

About the time I got laid off from the L-1011 program at Plant 10 in Palmdale (1983), a man who had a lifetime career with military planes and who had spent his retirement years gathering and selling memorabilia of aerospace developments was going out of business~~thus the SR-71 clock that became a family treasure.


…was dreamed of by Kelly Johnson of the Lockheed Skunk Works and developed under his leadership

…entered active service in 1966

…flew at 80,000 feet altitude (as far as we know)

…at 2,000 miles an hour (as far as we know)

…had tires  filled with nitrogen to 400 psi

…had two engines (1950’s technology),  each of which  produced 30,000 pounds of thrust

…had a crew of two, whose uniform was space suits because of where they flew

…because of the nature of the missions, aerial refueling (KC-135Q) was a part of every mission

Sled Driver:Flying the World’s Fastest Jet (Brian Shull) will provide an acquaintance with this amazing vehicle.  The Untouchables (Brian Shull and Walter Watson, Jr.) gives an hour by hour account of missions against the Libyan dictator in April of 1986.

In Cardinal in the Kremlin, Tom Clancy paints a great narrative of an SR-71 takeoff:

It rolled down the runway….Fuel that leaked from the SR-71’s tanks–the Blackbird leaked a lot–was ignited by the heat, much to the entertainment of the tower crew.  The pilot pulled back on the stick,…and the Blackbird’s nose came up.  He held the stick back for longer than usual, pointing the bird into a steep forty-five-degree climb on full burner, and in a moment all that was left on the ground was a thundering memory….

The Blackbird kept going up.  The air-traffic controllers at Las Vegas noted the blip on their screens, saw that it was barely moving laterally, though its altitude readout was changing as rapidly as the wheels of the slot machines on the airport concourse.  They shared a look–another Air Force hot dog–then they went back to work.

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