‘One of the real highlights of flying above Mach 3 and above 80,000 feet is nobody is up there with you,’ David Peters, former SR-71 Blackbird pilot.
No reconnaissance aircraft in history has operated in more hostile airspace or with such complete impunity than the SR-71 Blackbird. It is the fastest aircraft propelled by air-breathing engines. The Blackbird’s performance and operational achievements placed it at the pinnacle of aviation technology developments during the Cold War.
During its 24 years of service, the SR-71 Blackbird gathered intelligence in some of the world’s most hostile environments. The Blackbird evaded all 1,000 missiles fired at it and, to this day, remains the only US Air Force (USAF) aircraft to never lose a crewmember associated with it; whether in the air or on the ground.
The Blackbird was designed to operate at extreme velocities and altitudes: in fact, from 80,000 feet, it could survey 100,000 square miles of Earth’s surface per hour.
Achieving a radar lock on it was extremely difficult not only for any fighter jet then in service, but also for any surface-to-air (SAM) missile.
Thus, the rumors that the SR-71 stopped flying because it could be intercepted by jet fighters then in service with neutral countries in the Baltic or by Soviet MiGs are not true. There were so many factors in place to protect the Blackbird from being fired upon, some of which cannot be discussed in detail as they are still classified.
Former SR-71 pilot David Peters confirms this statement;
‘We were allowed 45 degrees of bank for a designated high bank turn. Radius is about 60 miles at 3.2. But your change of heading is pretty rapid you are just covering a lot of ground and air doing it. Most people don’t understand the dynamics. We were not going to outmaneuver much of anything. What matters is the proximity to start with. The speed and range of the protagonist. One of the real highlights of flying above Mach 3 and above 80,000 feet is nobody is up there with you. They have to see you (radar) first. How far away is significant because we are not just larking along. If you are talking surface-to-air missiles, how long does it take to launch get to 80,000 feet? How long does it take, and how close does it have to get to be able to maneuver if we are not going straight ahead? Very few missiles could go far enough to make up 36 or more miles per minute.
‘All this is not taking any consideration of our ECM capability.’
‘The bottom line is the only surface-to-air missile that had any chance at all was the SA-10 [SA-10 Grumble, the NATO reporting name of the S-300 Soviet SAM system] if it was nuclear. That would allow them to fire it out ahead of us with an air burst at altitude, which we could possibly not circumvent. Airborne I.e. interceptors none had any chance what so ever.’
Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Facebook Pages Habubrats SR-71 and Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.
Photo credit: Russian Ministry of Defence and Lockheed Martin