By Linda Sheffield Miller, theaviationgeekclub.com
During the Cold War, there was a need for a new reconnaissance aircraft that could evade enemy radar, and the customer needed it fast.
At Lockheed Martin’s advanced development group, the Skunk Works, work had already begun on an innovative aircraft to improve intelligence-gathering, one that would fly faster than any aircraft before or since, at greater altitude, and with a minimal radar cross section. The team rose to the nearly impossible challenge, and the aircraft took its first flight on Dec. 22, 1964. The legendary SR-71 Blackbird was born.
The first Blackbird accident that occurred that required the Pilot and the RSO to eject happened before the SR-71 was turned over to the Air Force. On Jan. 25, 1966 Lockheed test pilots Bill Weaver and Jim Zwayer were flying SR-71 Blackbird #952 at Mach 3.2, at 78,800 feet when a serious engine unstart and the subsequent “instantaneous loss of engine thrust” occurred.
The following story told by Weaver (available in Col. Richard H. Graham’s book SR-71 The Complete Illustrated History of THE BLACKBIRD The World’s Highest , Fastest Plane) is priceless in conveying the experience of departing a Blackbird at an altitude of fifteen miles and speed of Mach 3.2.
“Among professional aviators, there’s a well-worn saying: Flying is simply hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. And yet, I don’t recall too many periods of boredom during my 30-year career with Lockheed, most of which was spent as a test pilot.
By far, the most memorable flight occurred on Jan. 25, 1966. Jim Zwayer, a Lockheed flight test reconnaissance and navigation systems specialist, and I were evaluating those systems on an SR-71 Blackbird test from Edwards AFB, Calif. We also were investigating procedures designed to reduce trim drag and improve high-Mach cruise performance. The latter involved flying with the center-of-gravity (CG) located further aft than normal, which reduced the Blackbird’s longitudinal stability.
“We took off from Edwards at 11:20 a.m. and completed the mission’s first leg without incident. After refueling from a KC-135 tanker, we turned eastbound, accelerated to a Mach 3.2-cruise speed and climbed to 78,000 ft., our initial cruise-climb altitude.
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