One of the most impressive aircraft I ever saw in my Air Force career was the SR-71 Blackbird.
The Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird" was an advanced, long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft. It was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by Lockheed and its Skunk Works division. Clarence "Kelly" Johnson was responsible for many of the design's innovative concepts. During reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 operated at high speeds and altitudes to allow it to outrace threats. If a surface-to-air missile launch was detected, the standard evasive action was simply to accelerate and outfly the missile.
The SR-71 served with the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1998. A total of 32 aircraft were built; 12 were lost in accidents, but none lost to enemy action. The SR-71 has been given several nicknames, including Blackbird and Habu. Since 1976, it has held the world record for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft, a record previously held by the YF-12. - WikipediaI first saw the SR-71 was when I was assigned to the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena AB, Okinawa. There were a few of them assigned to a SAC detachment on the other side of the base. Each launch and recovery of one of these birds was a show all to itself.
Typically the jet would taxi out to the runway accompanied by a retinue of Security Police vehicles, maintenance vehicles and about six colonels in their own vehicles (and a partridge in a pear tree!) All with flashing lights and the occasional sounding of horns/sirens. Quite a sight!
The last time I saw the SR-71 was when I was assigned to SAC at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. This was a bird making its last flight before going to the museum just outside the gate. It was, to me, a very sad occasion. I think it was for the crew as well, because prior to setting her down for the last time, they put on quite a show. Multiple high speed passes at low altitude with a high-G pull up at the end of the airfield.
The SR-71. A fast, high flying marvel.
|There's no mistaking the shape of the Habu for anything else.|
While deployed to Okinawa, the SR-71s and their aircrew members gained the nickname Habu after a pit viper indigenous to Japan, which the Okinawans thought the plane resembled. - Wikipedia
|A NASA-operated SR-71|
|SR-71B trainer over the Sierra Nevada Mountains|
|Ahhh - pilots and their "selfies" (this is Major Brian Shul, SR-71 pilot, so yes, it's cool and awesome)|
|Major Shul with his visor up|
|View of the earth as seen from the SR-71 Blackbird at approximately 73,000 feet...|
Major Shul's story is pretty fascinating -
Brian Shul (born 1948), is a Vietnam-era USAF fighter pilot and a retired major in the United States Air Force (USAF). He flew 212 combat missions and was shot down near the end of the war. He was so badly burned that he was given next to no chance to live. Surviving, he returned to full flight status, flying the SR-71 Blackbird. Major Brian Shul completed a 20 year career in the Air Force. He has written four books on aviation and runs a photo studio in Marysville, California. - Wikipedia
|Major Brian Shul, USAF|
You can read more about the Major here. If you can get a hold of a copy of his book Sled Driver, jump on it. It is no longer in print but is floating around out there on the web of world-wideness. Good stuff!
|SR-71 Pilot's Cockpit|
|Awesomeness x 2!|
|SR-71 Cutaway Drawing|
|SR-71 In 'Burner|
|Taxiing Out (Bring the Heat!)|
What do the A-10 and the SR-71 have in common?
Big Air Force (read that as "the bean-counting, non-warfighters in the Five Sided Puzzle Palace") doesn't like them. Let Wikipedia tell it (somewhat edited by me).
Sigh...Initial RetirementIn the 1970s, the SR-71 was placed under closer Congressional scrutiny and, with budget concerns, the program was soon under attack. Both Congress and the USAF sought to focus on newer projects like the B-1 Lancer and upgrades to the B-52 Stratofortress, whose replacement was being developed.
The SR-71 had never gathered significant supporters within the Air Force, making it an easy target for cost-conscious politicians. Dick Cheney told the Senate Appropriations Committee that the SR-71 cost $85,000 per hour to operate. Opponents of the program estimated it cost $400 million per year to support; that number was subsequently reduced to $260 million. Also, parts were no longer being manufactured for the aircraft, so other airframes had to be cannibalized to keep the fleet airworthy. The aircraft's lack of a datalink (unlike the Lockheed U-2) meant that imagery and radar data could not be used in real time, but had to wait until the aircraft returned to base. The Air Force saw the SR-71 as a bargaining chip which could be sacrificed to ensure the survival of other priorities. A general misunderstanding of the nature of aerial reconnaissance and a lack of knowledge about the SR-71 in particular (due to its secretive development and usage) was used by detractors to discredit the aircraft, with the assurance given that a replacement was under development. In 1988, Congress was convinced to allocate $160,000 to keep six SR-71s (along with a trainer model) in flyable storage that would allow the fleet to become airborne within 60 days. The USAF refused to spend the money. While the SR-71 survived attempts to retire it in 1988, partly due to the unmatched ability to provide high-quality coverage of the Kola Peninsula for the US Navy, the decision to retire the SR-71 from active duty came in 1989, with the SR-71 flying its last missions in October that year.
Funds were redirected to the financially troubled B-1 Lancer and B-2 Spirit programs. Four months after the plane's retirement, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., was told that the expedited reconnaissance which the SR-71 could have provided was unavailable during Operation Desert Storm.
ReactivationDue to increasing unease about political conditions in the Middle East and North Korea, the U.S. Congress re-examined the SR-71 beginning in 1993.
Final RetirementThe reactivation met much resistance: the Air Force had not budgeted for the aircraft, and UAV developers worried that their programs would suffer if money was shifted to support the SR-71s. Also, with the allocation requiring yearly reaffirmation by Congress, long-term planning for the SR-71 was difficult. In 1996, the Air Force claimed that specific funding had not been authorized, and moved to ground the program. Congress reauthorized the funds, but, in October 1997, President Bill Clinton attempted to use the line-item veto to cancel the $39 million allocated for the SR-71. In June 1998, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the line-item veto was unconstitutional. All this left the SR-71's status uncertain until September 1998, when the Air Force called for the funds to be redistributed. The plane was permanently retired in 1998. The Air Force quickly disposed of its SR-71s, leaving NASA with the two last airworthy Blackbirds until 1999. All other Blackbirds have been moved to museums except for the two SR-71s and a few D-21 drones retained by the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.