Known for it’s blistering speed, the SR-71 was considered almost untouchable during its service career. Paul F Crickmore details an occasion when an example of the Blackbird almost fell into Soviet hands.
The 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (SRS) was reactivated as part of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) on June 25, 1966. Based at Beale AFB, California, the unit was equipped with the exotic, trisonic Lockheed SR-71A ‘Blackbird’ and operated by Strategic Air Command (SAC).
The SR-71, also nicknamed the ‘Habu’, had been designed and built in the early 1960s at the ‘Skunk Works’ – Lockheed’s special projects unit in Burbank, California. The aircraft’s twin Pratt & Whitney JT11D-20 engines (designated J58 in US military nomenclature), were custom-built, each developing a maximum afterburning thrust of 34,000lb at sea level. The engines were part of a unique, highly efficient air inlet/powerplant system that effectively turned them into turbo-ram jets, rapidly increasing the aircraft’s power from Mach 1.6 to Mach 3 – the inlet’s most efficient speed. At Mach 3 cruise, this resulted in the air inlet generating 54% of the total thrust produced, the ejector produced 29%, while the remaining 17% was generated by the J58 itself!
The Blackbird’s reconnaissance gathering sensors were interchangeable, thereby providing the platform with a high degree of flexibility, which dependent upon mission requirements would enable it to obtain Photographic Intelligence (PHOTINT), Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) or Radar Intelligence (RADINT) coverage.
The rest of this article is in the February issue.
Photo Caption: SR-71A 61-7964 following the failure of the right engine. The all-movable tail fins are positioned to off-set asymmetric thrust. Bo Ignell/Swedish Air Force