After Gary Power’s U-2 aircraft was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 Kelly Johnson at the infamous Lockheed “Skunk Works” conceived of a new aircraft which would fly 3 miles higher and five times faster than the U-2 spy plane and still be able to photograph license plates on cars far below on the earth’s surface.
In 1962 the first Blackbird flew and in 1966 the U.S. Air Force began flying operational missions with the SR-71 aircraft. Over the years this beautiful aircraft served six presidents, outran nearly 4,000 enemy missiles, left numerous MIGs far below and behind returning home unscathed each time.
One day, high above Arizona , an SR-71 crew were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below them. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. ‘Ninety knots,’ ATC replied. A twin Bonanza soon made the same request. ‘One-twenty on the ground,’ was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a ground speed check. The SR-71 pilots knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was ‘Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,’ ATC responded. The situation was too ripe. The SR-71 rear seater startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, ‘ Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.’ The SR-71 crew did not hear another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.
In April of 1986 an SR-71 crew was flying over Libya to take photographs of the damage F-111’s had inflicted on Qaddafi’s air force. In response, Qaddafi had established a “line of death” swearing to shoot down any intruder that crossed that line. On April 15th an American SR-71 blew by that line at 2,125 mph. Shortly thereafter the rear seater said there were numerous missile launch signals when SA-2 and SA-4 surface to air missiles were launched to shoot down the SR-71. Calm and cool the crew continued on course betting their lives on the SR-71. After some agonizing minutes the crew turned towards the Mediterranean moving a mile every 1.6 seconds well above the Mach 3.2 aircraft limit. The pilot pulled the throttle back but still overran the refueling tanker over Gibraltar.
I wonder what is next.
Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!