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Rare photos of the SR-71 Blackbird show its amazing history

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The SR-71 Blackbird is, without a doubt, the most advanced airplane ever built in relation to the technology available at the time. It broke all aviation records, it flew incredible missions, and it became the stuff of legend. (sploid.gizmodo.com) 기타...

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WhiteKnight77
Many years ago while stationed on Okinawa, I would head over to Kadena AFB and stake out several places. I got pictures that were supposedly "illegal" of the SR-71. I have a shot of both of them in their hanger backed up to highway 58 and others as it was being towed to the end of the taxiway for runway 5L where there was a test spot (the blast deflector is still there). I even got a few of it landing in broad daylight.

Anyone could get pics of it from highway 58 if they were riding in a vehicle that was tall enough.

I once met a couple of Habu (the name given the plane by locals and after the deadly snake of the island) pilots at the Kadena air base dive shop. Personable guys really, but couldn't say much about the plane sadly. It would often take off at night, circle over Futenma where I was stationed and all you could see were 2 blue-white cones of flame and the rotating beacon and nothing more, but you knew it was headed north.
crchall
I must have been there about the same time. I was stationed at Hanza and used to go down to Kadena to watch them and the C5's.
WhiteKnight77
I was there from April 82 to April 84.
sgbelverta
I live close to Beale and actually got to see the SR71 a couple of times. I heard it at night more often. It's engines had a very distinct sound.
patbuckley
The first time I ever saw one was while I was playing golf at Peachtree CC in Marysville. It was mid morning with low clouds. I heard a fairly quiet jet and looked up as one flew directly overhead at a couple thousand feet through a break in the cloud cover. I was stunned.

Then in '89 I went to the Beale Air show and was lucky enough to have one take off right past my car as I was driving to a parking place. I remember that they would not taxi them up to the crowd and stopped way out at the end of the runway.....then again I went to the SR-71 retirement ceremony just a few short months later - this time they taxied the jet up to the crowd. I remember that I could feel the heat coming from it.

Regarding exhaust color - I didn't notice any when it went by during take-off. I was lucky enough to be behind a Concorde in (If I recall correctly) Tampa Florida when it took off and the exhaust was a yellowish green color.

Then I remember taking off from Orly and seeing an AF Concorde on the ground. Landed later in NY at the same Concorde was on the ground again. It had passed over us.
oowmmr
oowmmr 1
Yea, I don't recall it making much noise either.
oowmmr
oowmmr 1
I saw it there, also, at the airshows. Trippy aircraft, UFO like.
olddoc22
When the burners were lit on takeoff the flame was green
preacher1
Stationed at Kunsan AB, South Korea in 1971, crash phone rang in FSO one day with a modified B57 with one engine flame out on final. Instructions were for FSO to make sure I was on the response. No, I had just came over from Kirtland at ABQ and had no idea what a modified B57 was. It was also fishy as to why I was personally requested on response. We got into position on flight line, hovering off to one side, had about a 1500' ceiling. Out of the clouds came the blackbird and I was the only one on base with PSD experience for the suits as we had U-2's at Tucson. He landed, chopper set down, chief put me in a foil firesuit. We brought him into a hangar, closed the doors and allowed the cooldown, extricated the pilots and left, never to see it again until a couple of days later as it was repaired and took off. Before it was landing, there was a C141 from Kadena enroute with new engines, starters(yeah it took a special starter as nothing regular was fast enough, and a full habu-approved repair crew.
joelwiley
Thanks for posting. I'd seen snippets of the story and am glad to see the whole thing in one place. 8-)
olddoc22
2 big buick V-8s unmufflered in that starter.
preacher1
Yep, that's what one of the Habu guys told us. Buick Wildcats, idk what size.
olddoc22
430 cubes about 360 horses each.
preacher1
I wasn't sure of the size but the regular FMS starters were only about 1/2 that size and they worked pretty good on everything else. I know we went on shift at 0800 the day they left and were about 1/2 mile from their hangar. You didn't have any problem hearing them as he started up getting ready to leave. They even brought their own tug to shove him out with. I mean, once it parked, nobody but the HABU crew from Kadena went anywhere near it. That 1 hangar had about half of base security took up for a couple days and nights. There was a solid line around it for the duration and they had pre cut stencils saying HABU APPROVED for anything on the base they used.
s2v8377
s2v8377 2
Excellent article, thanks for sharing : )

I wish I got to see one in person.
smoki
smoki 2
It's truly a testament to the genius of the Lockheed Skunk Works and Kelly Johnson that this airplane was conceived and built when it was being that it was so far ahead of its time in terms of its performance capability. The X-15 rocket plane program was running about the same time so it's natural to assume some of the materials and flight control technology used on the YF-12 came from knowledge gained from the X-15 program. Although in a different category the X-15 holds the absolute speed record for a manned aircraft (not spacecraft) at 4520 mph with an altitude record just over 50 miles. Missiles fired at the SR-71 missed largely because it was faster than a speeding bullet.
WilliamSwan
Very interesting article.
oowmmr
oowmmr 2
The Blackbird looks especially different against typical looking things that that control tower/building. It looked like a UFO the first time I saw one fly at KBAB, like the mind has to work to recognize something so different. Looks really strange in a turn where the long fuselage makes the delta planform look tiny. They should have kept one flying to awe the crowds forever. Beautiful Blackbird!!
RetAF
RetAF 2
Brings back fond memories from 20 years ago.

When the KC10 came into the inventory we started doing refueling with the SR71 in the early 80s. Had to go to Beale to get qualified in the rendezvous as it was unique due to the speeds and the fact the SR came in above the tanker and descended below us for the AR as we were headed toward him. Normally the receiver would be below the tanker at that time. Funny thing happened during the training at Beale. KC10, unlike the KC135(at the time) didn't have a navigator, just triple INS. So the Beale navigator got to watch us run a rendezvous without him doing anything!

Most memorable mission was when we flew a SR71 refueling in the Mediterranean during Eldorado Canyon aka "Benghazi Bomb Comp" in 1986. All the KC10s took off from and landed in the CONUS, yet the refueling was over in the Med.

ebills42
Ed Bills 1
A close friend and late Maj Gen was an early member of Thunderbirds and flew every aircraft in AF inventory before retirement. His favorite was SR.-71. His eyes would light up when he talked about it!
w7psk
Love the SR, I flew as an Airborne Electronic Warfare Op with the Navy and we would go to Mildenhall and Saw them take off quite oft. We also flew support missions for them. They were fun as hell.
ToddBaldwin3
The moving map display in the SR-71 was just that, a film of the map for the route they were flying that moved with the aircraft.
piedmont757
The Black Beauty... I was stationed at CHS in the 90s. Every air show we had the SR-71 Was always roped off with SP.s guarding it. Even after 30 years of flying.. You still cant get close to it.. Fly on blackbird!!
piedmont757
If there was a race to mach 1 Between the SR-71 and the Concorde. Who would win?
s2v8377
s2v8377 2
If they were both still flying my money would be on the SR-71!!!
joelwiley
It would be a tie. Neither of them are flying.
patbuckley
SR-71 - no contest.
mdlacey
Educated guess would be the SR. Concorde was designed for Mach 2 cruise, not getting to Mach 2 as fast as possible.
piedmont757
Yep your right.. The concorde had rolls royce olympus engines not sure but I think the SR-71 had Pratt and Whitneys.... not sure
yr2012
Saw one at Laughlin AFB
yr2012
http://www.sr-71.org/blackbird/locations.php
yr2012
My fav at the time was the XB-70 Valkyrie built around the same time as Blackbird. Subsequently after a crash in Barstow, the remaining Valkyrie was sent to Wright-Patt for static display.
hatch
1980 the Iran-Iraq war started and a radar was moved to a location in the Arabian (Persian) gulf. A target detected out of Saudi, squawking mode C last seen at 103000 ft traveling extremely fast heading north over Iran. Amazing aircraft.
rcrahlf
I was in the AF security police and guarded these planes daily @ Kadena AB Okinawa. Along with the SR squadron commander we would always make a sweep of the entire runway prior to take off looking for FOD. When the took off on a clear day they would be out of sight in about 9 sec.
loydenochs
A fabulous aircraft and a testament to the ingenuity of Kelly Johnson and the aircraft engineers and mechanics of the Skunk Works. Designing and building that aircraft at that time is should be the textbook definition of "thinking outside the box".
pc1254
I got a photograph taken, of me leaning on the SR71,
on display at Wright Patterson AFB. Speechless, aircraft. Enough said!
masirovits
There's an SR-71 on display at the Udvar Hazdy (sic?) Air & Space Museum near Dulles airport in DC. The MOST impressive display of one anywhere, I think. And if you can get your hands on a book called Sled Driver by Brian Shul, you'll read it cover to cover several times. I did! (and still do, Thanks for the autograph Brian!) One of the best stories (and there's LOTS of them!) is when he related a story about pilots calling ATC for ground speed checks, including an F/A-18!
preacher1
There was an excerpt from his book and that particular story posted here on FA a few months back. It was cool. LOL
joelwiley
Not to mention the maintenance manual at: http://www.sr-71.org/blackbird/manual/
1320Fastback
I got to visit the workshop underneath the San Diego Air and Space Museum last year where they have some SR parts, mainly a vertical stabilizer and a J58 engine. I remember being amazed at how a airplane that could fly at Mach 3 had rivets that were anything but flush. The rivets on the tail all were up maybe 1/16 of a inch, I was just expecting countersunk perfection I guess. Interesting note is that this tail piece was for sale on eBay for a while, can't remember the figure but think it was around $60K.

Pictures are here: http://www.mission4today.com/index.php?name=ForumsPro&file=viewtopic&t=13069&start=60

Also there is a great video of a SR pilot doing a complete cockpit walk thru in a full scale simulator here: http://youtu.be/tj9UwKQKE3A
sheka
totally interesting
FritzSteiner
WOW !!

There's an SR-71 here in Huntsville, AL at the Space and Rocket Center. It's visible from I-565 which passes in front of the Center.
patbuckley
SR-71 no contest
mdlacey
My most treasured photo of myself is of me and 3 friends sitting on the right leading edge of an SR that was parked at the south side of EDW in summer 1999 among several other aircraft on static display. It was well inside the gates. We were there on business at NASA Dryden and got a VIP tour. I remember walking among all of them thinking the drawings and photos in the combat aircraft compendia of my youth and all come to life at once. It was as close to overwhelmed as I've ever been.
rogerph100
My first sight of the SR71 was at Farnborough Airshow in the early 70s when one had flown over NYC then refuelled over the atlantic and reached Farnborough in something close to 2 hours, but did not land there and I think it returned to the USA with more inflight refuelling, just to claim the transatlantic record from the British who had taken it with a Harrier flown by Sqn Ldr Tom Leckie-Thompson, that took off in Central NYC and landed at Paddington station. It did refuel over the atlantic, more than once.
The Concorde argument is interesting because there are no pictures of the Concorde flying at supersonic speeds because nothing else could stay with it at the same altitude - it is all very interesting to quote max speeds etc but it has to be stated at what altitude. Therein lies the brilliance of the technology in Concorde - they solved the drag problem with some amazing aerodynamic solutions and, of course, it had a vastly greater payload at mach 2.0 than anything else ever built.
As a Briton I am very proud of the Concorde and what it achieved, just as my friends in the USA are proud of SR71s. Both are iconic aircraft and how could you ever say Dolly Parton was better or worse than Muhammed Ali for example?
joelwiley
And all those steam gauges!
piedmont757
Olympus engines... over pratt and whitneys... Very tough... It may be a tie. does any one have input on this?
nicholasweber
"The SR-71 Blackbird is, without a doubt, the most advanced airplane ever built in relation to the technology available at the time." WRONG!
Concorde was!
joelwiley
On what do you base that assertion?
nicholasweber
Evidence!! Just read about the technological innovations and advances.
joelwiley
Would you care to cite your references?
hyflybob
As a I supported the SR all around the world-- retired in-fight refueling Boom Operator-The SR71 was a more advanced supersonic aircraft based on its mission The Concorde performed admirably in the Commercial arena and the SR still has records for speed and altitude that still stand to this day--hands down the SR flew higher, faster, further due to inflight refueling--head to head the SR would outperform the Concorde as the SR flew at Mach 3+ and the Concorde did not!
lotharharris
Concorde was a technological triumph for the commercial industry but couldn't hold a candle to the SR-71 which flew faster and higher. Two completely different designs and missions.
nicholasweber
and the crew had to go to the toilet in their pants and take off their oxygen masks to eat or drink!!! Also the Blackbird burnt far more fuel.
lynx318
lynx318 2
Excuse me while I go back to the toilet in back,IN A 2 SEATER WEAPONLESS FIGHTER LIKE PLANE What is the point of stressing an airframe more by pressurising a cabin for 2, of course they use masks. As for fuel, take a car to 200kmh, not overly brilliant mileage, take same car to 300+kmh it absolutely chews the juice to overcome extra drag. You're arguments invalidate themselves.
lynx318
lynx318 3
That's like saying a cruise ship is more advanced than an aircraft carrier¡¡¡
preacher1
I kinda got to put the Blackbird on top. Reason, all for it pretty much had to be made from scratch. Concorde did have existing technology available. It was about 10 years newer than the SR71

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