Flying the SR-71 Blackbird

| March 9, 2008

There is a special place in my heart — and, I suspect, that of most geeks of a certain age, not to mention virtually every pilot who has ever flown — for the famous SR-71 “Blackbird” spy plane, the fastest publicly acknowledged plane that has ever flown (though see Henderson’s posting on possible classified replacements).

For starters, it looked like the future embodied, like something you’d see on a 50s era cover of Analog magazine. It looked like a suborbital spaceship, and it almost really was:

Here’s a wonderful article by Major Brian Shul, who threw away an SR-71 model as a kid (“It was too ungainly”), but then grew up to fly one for real:

One moonless night, while flying a routine training mission over the Pacific, I wondered what the sky would look like from 84,000 feet if the cockpit lighting were dark. While heading home on a straight course, I slowly turned down all of the lighting, reducing the glare and revealing the night sky. Within seconds, I turned the lights back up, fearful that the jet would know and somehow punish me. But my desire to see the sky overruled my caution, I dimmed the lighting again. To my amazement, I saw a bright light outside my window. As my eyes adjusted to the view, I realized that the brilliance was the broad expanse of the Milky Way, now a gleaming stripe across the sky. Where dark spaces in the sky had usually existed, there were now dense clusters of sparkling stars. Shooting stars flashed across the canvas every few seconds. It was like a fireworks display with no sound. I knew I had to get my eyes back on the instruments, and reluctantly I brought my attention back inside. To my surprise, with the cockp lighting still off, I could see every gauge, lit by starlight. In the plane’s mirrors, I could see the eerie shine of my gold spacesuit incandescently illuminated in a celestial glow. I stole one last glance out the window. Despite our speed, we seemed still before the heavens, humbled in the radiance of a much greater power. For those few moments, I felt a part of something far more significant than anything we were doing in the plane. The sharp sound of Walt’s voice on the radio brought me back to the tasks at hand as I prepared for our descent.

Read the whole thing, plus be sure to read the comments afterwards to see just how beloved and admired the SR-71 was. Hat tip to Instapundit. ..bruce w..

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Category: Avionics, Intelligence, Main, Military

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

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