I remember seeing photos of this when I was a kid and I thought it was gorgeous. And I still think it's gorgeous. Hardly anything else from then has aged so well.
Raymond birkenfeld
Thank you for posting this article. I was stationed in Okinawa back in 87-88. I would watch the SR71 fly every 2 days. The greatest achievement in aviation history Semper Fi
This article is a nice summary as far as it goes but it has a few issues. First the whole Kelly Johnson as Tony Stark thing sends the false message that Johnson "designed" the Blackbird. This B.S. completely ignores the fact that this was a team effort with stuff like the bleed bypass for the J58 being invented by a Pratt & Whitney Engineer named Abernethy the proof of which is his patent 3344606 RECOVER BLEED AIR TURBOJET. The inlets were designed by a Lockheed Engineer named D.H. Campbell who was awarded patent 3477455 SUPERSONIC INLET FOR JET ENGINES. A couple of technical missteps as well; the spike bleed is a series of slots to remove the turbulent boundary layer air but this air is dumped overboard and not sent to the engine. You can see that if you actually look at the inlet/engine photos you used in the article (where it says "Centrebody Bleed Overboard".
The biggest problem I have with this article is the idea that the chine was included for RCS reduction and the engineers at Lockheed were too stupid to realize it would generate lift until the plane was actually built. The way you put it was "When the SR-71 took to the air, the engineers were surprised to find that the chines provided more lift and improved the performance of the aircraft". That's what wind tunnel testing is for before you start cutting metal on a multi-million dollar aircraft. You don't just build it and then learn about the aerodynamics for the first time with a pilot on board.
Also that bit about "To keep the engine and other systems cool, the fuel was cycled inside to the chines, which acted as radiators." Where did you get that notion from? I mean, you were kidding, right? If you read the SR-71 Flight manual you see that the fuel is a heat sink used for cooling various parts of the plane like the landing gear and the Q-bay. Radiators in the chines (shaking head)? You should post a picture of those because I've never heard of them much less seen them.
I knew a lot about the SR-71 before reading, but still learned several new things. Thanks for a fun read.
Expanded Viewpoint
Yes JS, not a bad article, but it certainly could have been written much better. Johnson was not the sole architect or engineer behind this fabulous piece of machinery, he had the support of many genius level men and maybe women too. As to the fuel tanks leaking, even as a youngster I wondered why they couldn't come up with a way to seal them up. Like maybe by using silicone rubber seal lips between two or more tanks sleeved one inside the other, or accordion style expansion joints or just making several large Dewars out of SS or Inconel. As to the chines generating any additional lift at a horizontal flight attitude, I don't see it. Don't you need an airfoil to create Delta P between the upper and lower surfaces via the Venturi Effect?? They could act as sails when in climb-out mode, I guess, but after that the increased surface area of them just makes more drag. Unless there are some newly discovered laws of physics that no one sent me a memo on.
Having lived in Palmdale, CA (where the "Skunk Works" now resides) during the last operational years of the Blackbird I got to experience the amazing aircraft a little closer. One thing was it was never a secret when the plane was going to fly because when it started it rattled windows for miles around with a very distinct sound.
Later they built an out door museum called Blackbird Park. Do a search and you will find many sites that have info on the aircraft there as they have changed over the years but have included the small Blackbird Drone, SR71, at one time I think it had an A-12 although it does not now as it also had more than one Blackbird but now has one plus a U-2.
I am a private pilot and was lucky enough to be driving by one day when they had a fund raising effort and for $5 or $10 you could sit in the pilot's cock pit for a couple minutes. Some instruments were covered and there was a man watching you to keep you from uncovering them! Most of the instruments would have looked right at place in my 1965 Piper Cherokee 150C! One of the best "donations" I have ever made.
My best friend as adult worked right across the field on the Space Shuttles where he was Mid Bay Project Manager and I got a couple unofficial tours of two Shuttles. He and I both built Baja Bugs and one afternoon he took me up to a place called a number of names like Russian Perch or Russian Hill. This was a spot, on public land, where two Russian spies would sit, quite legally, to watch every Blackbird take off as the aircraft had to fly right past them and you can see the whole airport from there!
We also got to watch many B-1 and B-2 bomber take off and landings in Palmdale as the B-1 final assembly was done right there! Shuttle was reconfigured for each different mission (what my friend's guys and ladies did) and they would load it on the 747 for it's flight to Florida so we got to watch that a number of times. All good aviation fun.
Local guys have a designated small dirt parking area right off the departure end of the runway and always seemed to know when something good was going to happen.
All that was fine but NOTHING was like take off of an SR-71 at close quarters!!
Douglas Bennett Rogers
I was told that a pilot who was up for court marshal flew the SR-71 at full power 50 ft. off the deck and blew out every window at Edwards AFB. Don't know how he got in and got the ground crew to start it.
Small point of order: Titanium is anything but "rare" as stated in the article. It is the ninth most-abundant element on the surface of the Earth, after oxygen, silicon, aluminium, iron, calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium.
The problem with titanium isn't its scarcity, but the complexity of its extraction from the forms available to us (chiefly TiO²), which is why relatively pure titanium metal has only been available chemically century or so, and in significant quantities at "affordable" prices more recently still.
Miner Bob
If you go to the Air Museum in Tucson, Az they have an excellent SR-71 display that rescued from being scrapped in 1994. We had the fun of touching and feeling it parked outside in the dirt before they built the nice building housing it today. The man giving the tour and great stories used to be on the ground crew for that SR-71. They also have a rare Drone that rode on it's back that would glide over Russia to get photos then eject the film package that was grabbed mid-air by the parachutes and hauled into a cargo plane. Then the drone would self-destruct into the ocean. Seeing it person was awesome and funny when very next month Popular Mechanics featured the SR-71 and the "Top Secret" Drone on the cover of their magazine.
As a footnote, after Francis Gary Powers was released to the US, he worked as a freeway traffic helicopter pilot for a SoCal TV station. It was ironic to hear this cold war hero signing off after a traffic report.
Sadly, he eventually was killed in a 'copter crash.
Probably the way he would want to go.