The Blackbird

The SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” is a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft. The first flight of an SR-71 took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in January 1966. The US Air Force (USAF) retired its fleet of SR-71s on Jan. 26, 1990.

Throughout its nearly 24-year career, the SR-71 remained the world’s fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft. From 80,000 feet, it could survey 100,000 square miles of Earth’s surface per hour.

Given its incredible capabilities, the Blackbird was able to gather intelligence in some of the world’s most hostile environments.

SR-71 Blackbird mission the day of Chernobyl Disaster

Former SR-71 RSO, Lt. Col. Doug Soifer, recalls in Richard H. Graham’s book SR-71 Revealed The Inside Story;

‘Mike Smith and I were TDY for our first time to Mildenhall for our normal six-week rotation. We went to the Det one morning to fly a routine six-hour sortie—the Barents and the Baltic. During the preflight briefings the intelligence officer said a nuclear power site (Chernobyl) in the Soviet Union had an accident a few hours earlier. They had no other information on it yet. The weather briefing officer gave his normal briefing, but also mentioned they doubled checked with the weather service at Offutt AFB that we would not fly through any of the fall-out from Chernobyl. With the briefings done and no one concerned about our route of flight, we went to the jet and flew a normal mission.

SR-71 print
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‘The normal routine after an operational mission is to land and continue to taxi off the runway and directly into the hangar so they could download the mission take. But as we landed and turned off the runway, we were told to stop way before the hangar. We both thought this was very strange and couldn’t understand why we were stopping here. Then one person, and only one, dressed in very funny looking gear, came walking up to the plane.’

Soifer continues;

‘As he got closer, we could see he was in full chemical gear and had a Geiger counter. After they had guaranteed Mike and I that we were in no danger of through radiation from Chernobyl, they were checking the plane before any of THEM would get close to us! Once he walked about the plane with the Geiger counter we were allowed to continue to taxi into the hangar.’

Photo credit: NASA and Unknown

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird model
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