Why Was This Plane Invulnerable: The SR-71 Blackbird Story

Updated : Nov 08, 2019 in Articles

Why Was This Plane Invulnerable: The SR-71 Blackbird Story


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this video. In the midst of the Cold War, two Mig-25s race to intercept a threat
along the Soviet border. They’re the fastest interceptors ever built, and if
they really push their engines, they can reach an incredible Mach 3.2. But it’s
not enough. Because what they’re chasing can outrun and out-climb any threat. A
plane engineered to be invulnerable. The Cold War locked the United States
and Soviet Union into a tense a struggle for global influence and control. Both
sides poured enormous resources into military technologies. But getting an
upper hand means knowing your opponent’s next move. And in the 1950s, little was
known about facilities deep within the Soviet Union. An extensive network of
radar stations, surface-to-air missile sites, and interceptor air bases kept the
Americans away. Until 1956, when U-2 spy planes began flying over the Soviet
Union. Neither fast nor stealthy, the U-2s had one critical advantage. At 70,000 feet,
they could fly above Soviet air defenses. U.S. President Eisenhower was even
assured, Soviet radars couldn’t detect the U-2 at such high altitudes. But it
turns out, the Americans were wrong. The Soviets had tracked the U-2 since day one, and it was only a matter of time before they’d be able to shoot one down. Simply
flying high wasn’t enough. Even before the U-2 began its surveillance missions,
there were already plans underway to replace it. Because true impunity over
Soviet airspace would need a combination of incredible speed, altitude, and stealth.
And this led the Americans to explore some pretty radical spy plane concepts,
like a ramjet powered aircraft that would be deployed from the bottom of a
supersonic B-58. But in 1959 the CIA chose Lockheed to develop the next
generation of spy plane. Meanwhile, the U-2 continued to fly over
the Soviet Union. But not for very long, because in the spring of 1960, a Soviet
surface-to-air missile finally managed to bring one down. The captured pilot and
wreckage were paraded around the Soviet Union used as proof of Western
aggression. As tensions rose, now more than ever the US needed a replacement
for the U-2. And what Lockheed developed, would be
unlike any aircraft ever built. A plane that nearly 60 years after its first
flight, remains the fastest air-breathing jet to ever fly. Lockheed’s
highly-classified spy plane would be known as the A-12. Originally used by the
CIA for reconnaissance, the A-12 was also developed into an interceptor prototype,
armed with air-to-air missiles, along with a variant that could launch an
unmanned reconnaissance drone. But it was the SR-71 Blackbird, a variant developed
for the Air Force that would go on to serve for decades, while earlier versions
were quickly retired. The Blackbird could cruise at Mach 3.2 right near the edge
of space, and do it for hours on end. To achieve this, Lockheed’s engineers had
to innovate pretty much everything from scratch. To sustain such incredible
speeds the SR-71 and its predecessors were powered by engines often described
as turboramjets. Below Mach 2 they functioned like conventional
after-burning jet engines. But above that, they behaved more like ramjets, as an
inlet cone adjusted to bypass air around the engine and directly into the
afterburner. At mach 3.2 the SR-71’s exterior would heat up to beyond 500
degrees Fahrenheit, easily hot enough to soften aircraft aluminum. Lockheed
engineers used titanium for 92 percent of the aircraft, and in the 1960s this
required inventing entirely new fabrication technologies. It’s unusual
shape did more than just spook UFO enthusiasts, it helped reduce its radar
signature as did its special black paint, which earned the SR-71 its Blackbird
name. The A-12 and SR-71 were first deployed
over North Korea and Vietnam, where they were unsuccessfully targeted by over 800
surface-to-air missiles. But the spy plane never flew into Soviet airspace. At
least not officially, because another shoot-down over the Soviet Union would
be catastrophic. So instead, the SR-71 flew along its
borders, using its powerful side-looking radar and cameras to peer hundreds of
miles into Soviet territory. And that frustrated the Soviets. In 1976, Viktor
Belenko defected to the west, by escaping the Soviet Union in his Mig-25. He
described the frustration of trying to intercept Blackbirds. The MiG’s were
Mach 3 capable, but only for a few minutes at a time. Not for hours like the
Blackbird. Nor could they climb to reach the SR-71’s incredible altitude. Even
their enormous R40 missiles lacked the guidance needed to strike the SR-71
head-on. For years, the Blackbirds were practically invulnerable. They could out
fly and out-climb any threat. But by the 1980s, Mig-31s were roaming the
skies, equipped with sophisticated radar and long-range R33 missiles. They posed
a legitimate threat, as did a new generation of Soviet surface-to-air
missiles. But the greatest threat to the Blackbird wasn’t an enemy missile or jet.
It was itself. No Blackbird was ever lost on a mission, but more than a third of
the 50 built were destroyed in accidents. One literally disintegrated around its
pilots. They were also enormously expensive to operate. Each one siphoning
about 300 million dollars a year out of America’s defense budget. A fleet of
special aerial refuelers and a small army of support and maintenance staff were
needed just to keep these planes mission ready. And advances in spy satellites
aerial drones and the SR-71 s inability to deliver surveillance data in real
time, diminished some of the plane’s utility. Add to that, politics and
infighting for defense budgets and by the late 1980s, the SR-71’s days were numbered. They were officially retired in 1998,
with two sent to NASA for testing. The technology behind the A-12 and SR-71 is
now well over fifty years old. Yet somehow these incredible planes
still speak to us. Not about the past, but the future. Leaving us with a sense of
wonder unlike any other in aviation history. A few months ago, I launched my
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100 Comments

  • If you like my WW2 plane short film, please subscribe to my channel. I am just getting started. Thank you. https://youtu.be/Id8_w3sYmNA

  • Good contnet and good video, I like it, but why do you stress your sentences like you are reading to a preschool kid? Raising the voice at the end of every single sentence is not the best way to tell a story…

  • As a young kid before I knew anything technical about aircraft or their capabilities and uses, I quickly latched on to the SR-71 Blackbird as a favorite (if not THE favorite) based solely on the looks.

    The fact that it was and to this day 50 years later STILL is a bad-a$$ in how it operates and it's capabilities ……… Really makes you believe anything is possible.

  • The title is wrong. Both, the A-12 and the SR-71 were quite vulnerable. It could be easily hit by SA-2 Missiles if it flew into their target envelope! At least one was hit by SA-2 shrapnel in North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese also had little trouble tracking it with their "hand me down" Soviet radars. So much for it;s vaunted "Stealth" factor. In the USA, it was also routinely tracked with civil air traffic control radars. The fact that the Soviets never managed to shoot an SR-71 down on it's "International Airspace" flight tracks was because their air launched missiles were not as good as advertised. As for it's usefulness as a photo recon bird along the Soviet Borders, We will never truly know, because the results are and always be conveniently "Classified", if for no other reason than to allow the US Air Farce to play with it's overly expensively "Men"s Toys" at taxpayer expense a little longer.

  • A titanium plane, fastest ever build, flying at the edge of space, invisible to radar, able to outrun missiles…designed by a bunch of guys at Lockheed using pen and paper and slide rules decades before computers and even pocket calculators were a thing. Humanity is capable of amazing things when we're able to just get out of our own way.

  • I am surprised by how stubborn Americans are like you are actively invading a nations airspace and your spy plane gets shot down and you blame the other country for provoking war they caught your pilot from their airspace they have the right to show him to the world

  • As a kid in the 70s and as an adult now,I still see the future when I see one of these.
    I swear it looks as if it's capable of warp speed. 😹

  • Funniest thing about both the SR-71 & F117, neither could have been made if it wasn't for Russia. Titanium for the SR-71 was purchased from Russia, because they were really the only source. Stealth technology used for the F117 was possible thanks to a Russian scientist who wrote a technical paper that showed that radar return strength was determined by the edge of the target, not the size. Russians didn't realize the importance of this paper and it was published in a journal that was translated and discovered by a Skunk Works engineer.

  • There is 2 interviews with MiG 25 pilot on Youtube, where he claims that they had no problems with interception of sr71. They knew exactly when and where it will fly, so they patroled there, And SR71s never directly entered USSR airspace, only "cutted the corners" frome time to time. It phisically impossible to intercept any plane in such circumstances, but they were ready and could do it if Blackburd would decide to enter any deep in USSR airspace. I wonder what frustration Belenko talking about. Sr71 could not overjump Mig25+p40 combination.

  • As the details of the Blackbird were not made public years later when it’s replacements were active and considering what has followed which we also know of, one can only speculate what Secret Craft there are way up there now. It’s more than likely that many reports of Unidentified Flying Objects in the post war era, and presently.

    The SR-71 is a mind blowing beast to behold even now, the example in Duxford’s Aircraft branch of the Imperial War Museum looks like a piece of alien technology squeezed into an impossibly small space hemmed in on all sides by a multitude of different aircraft, unmissable!

  • I visited San Diego Air & Space Museum a couple of years ago, it's freaking impressive the blackbird that is mounted outside the museum…

  • 1. The planes would not be chasing each other, so the phrasing at the beginning of the video is weird. Mig-25/31 need fast speeds just to fly quicker to a point from where it can fire its missiles not to chase any planes.
    2. Why the use of the Empire's measurement system that Americans have fought against to set themselves free from?
    3. The stories of the traitor with Mig-25 make no sense since neither he nor anyone else on Mig-25 was trying to intercept SR-71 since it was not even trying to invade the airspace of the USSR. He was only laying doing general thoughts about hypotheticals.
    5. R-40 missiles have a couple of Machs faster than SR-71 (even at the plane's top speed) and are made for 30 km altitudes so if they were used against it, the plane would be downed easily.

  • For the record they flew over 100K feet ;P

    Not that we will ever get documentation to prove it tho

  • Fun fact and something bitter sweet about the SR-71 for anyone who doesn't know about it.
    The engineers were unable to create a sealant durable enough to withstand the extreme heat generated by the awesome speeds the SR-71 would cruise during its missions. This caused the aircraft to leak fuel and other liquids as it was on the ground and flying at slower speeds. It wasnt until the SR-71 got up to speeds of mach 3 did the skin of the aircraft expand and seal the leaks.
    So here is the bitter sweet part…
    I cant remember where I heard it or read it or who said it. It went something along the lines of…
    "The Blackbird isn't leaking, she's crying. She is only happy when she is flying high and fast".

  • bla blah blah – if it were really that good it would fly even nowadays – but its not (like the f117). its all a propaganda-hoax, like always. i dont even believe in nuclear weapons

  • Amazing how much technology went into this plane, just 20 years prior piston engine planes were the cream of the crop!! This plane will go down in history as the baddest plane of the cold war 😈💨🤘

  • The Blackbird was an amazing plane in it's time but by today's standards, hardly "invulnerable". Strange how it was retired just about the time when the Soviets were starting to deploy new anti-aircraft defense systems like the S-300 PMU.

  • By far my favorite bird! There is one sitting about an hour from my house that I take the kids to visit quite frequently, not as big as one would expect.

  • Engineered to be invulnerable? They wisely stayed out of Soviet airspace. The other players didn't count for much at the time.

  • I absolutely adore this channel and I also love the way this guy does ads. Not in your face and they dont take half the video

  • To fly n float the edge of space stealth Colorado detect n b b is that spoken or unique n detect or sence invisibility control no sight see or depence n old needs to break upon sleek n break ain't fly or broke or all money n crap

  • You got a lot of the facts correct.
    One thing you failed to mention, you had to have balls to fly this bird.
    And once strapped in, you were in for the ride of your life.

  • My 1st experience was when I was ordered to guard one in 1992 at DMAFB. I also sat guard of the space shuttle piggy backed on a 747 or 737 at DMAFB. When your in the military, your privi to amazing stuff. I had 20 years of privilege.

  • This plane was inspired by ufos maybe a try at reverse engineering. This is like when youre neighbour builds a lamborghini in his backyard. With material found in the garage.

  • With fly height about 25000-29000m – ABOVE radar? ROFLMAO… Guys, seriously, you really think that there are people who will believe it? :))
    Btw, MIG-31's fly height is up to 30000m 😉

  • Distant relative of mine: Lieutenant Colonel Ben Bowles was the first SR-71 Blackbird pilot in the world to reach
    900 hours of flight time. My father mentioned to me when he first walked in Ben's house there was a picture of nearly the entire continent of Russia framed in his living room. RIP Ben Bowles.

  • using a lot of titanium from USSR bought through u.s. front companies. the Soviets actually help build the Spy planes unknowingly that spied on them.

  • Working at Beal AFB in calif. watched the blackbird several times a week. Take off and land. Sometimes go to kill and brake the sound berrier.

  • I always thought it's a new plane, I basically only saw it in X-men and it looked so sci-fi, hard to believe it's real and even harder to believe that it's so old

  • it's a wonder why we haven't taken the propulsion design used on the SR-71 to build and aircraft that can takeoff on a runway and fly into space and land like a normal aircraft.

  • Ironically, we didn't have enough titanium (obtained from rutile ore) to build these planes at the time, so we were forced to find external sources for it, the main one being… the Soviet Union. The one nation we wanted to spy on the most was the one nation who could provide enough titanium to build the spy plane.

  • You got it wrong by the early 1970's the Black bird's days were numbered because the American AIM-54 Phoenix missile with it's mach 5 speed could take out a SR-71. That was when we knew they needed a replacement since Russia was not far behind in missile technology with their R-77 missile.

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