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For You Military Buffs...Area 51 History


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They built them at the Skunkworks in L.A., and tested them at Area 51 in the Nevada desert. But in the early 60's getting them there was a real fiasco.

 

Take a look back in time and learn a little about the A-12's and SR-71's early days of development. There's a bit of text when you click on the link that gives you some great background and then the pictures that follow are priceless.

 

 

http://www.roadrunne...g_the_a-12.html

 

Enjoy,

John

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That is good stuff. The SR-71Blackbird HAS to be one or the most amazing planes ever built. Even though it is 50 years old, it looks like it could be from the future. That is one plane WAYYYYY ahead of it's time. I've never seen it up close at an air show but I should would love the opportunity.

 

QSS

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John,

 

Thanks for posting. Great back story on the haul job from Burbank to A51. Kelly Johnson http://en.wikipedia....hnson_(engineer) and the Skunk Works team were geniuses. My father (a USAF O-6) was involved in the fuel/lubricant systems and I had several opportunities to see these beauties at Beale in NorCal. Takeoffs were done with minimal lbs. of JP-7 and 2 KC-135's were always on station ready to provide a top off before they headed off to take pictures...

 

Blackbirds_zpse54490a1.jpg

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As a young teenager in 1964 I can recall my father being stationed at Hamilton AFB about 40 miles west of San Francisco and the F-101B's assigned to a Fighter Interceptor Wing there. I remember him telling me about the pilots being scrambled and launching against targets flying in excess of 70,000 feet and exceeding Mach 3 off the coast. The Voodoo pilots would talk about hitting Mach 1.7 and 50,000 feet but never being able to get close enough to get a visual on the unknown targets. They were initially thought to be some kind of UFO's but as the flights continued several times a week originating out of Southern California and taking the same track off the coast, they guessed it had to be something out of Lockheed's Skunk Works.

 

Shortly afterwards LBJ gave his famous press conference where he announced the presence of the YF-12A and SR-71. It was here that he reversed the letters RS and SR. I read latter that Lockheed had to go back and relabeled over 29,000 sets of blueprints to change them to SR-71 from their original designation of RS-71.

 

They were amazing aircraft for their time and even today considering 50+ year old technology. They were also incredibility expensive to operate and maintain. As a MAC crewmember flying C-141's back in the 70's and 80's I flew several support missions for SR-71's operating out of Mildenhall RAF, England back then. I remember once they were swapping out crews and aircraft and we were tasked to take the spare aircrew and support staff back to Beale AFB, California. The SR-71 took the runway in front of us and ran it's J-58 engines to full power prior to brake release. As our C-141A sat off to the side on the taxiway waiting clearance, our whole aircraft shook as the blue shock cones shot out a 100 feet or more behind the SR-71 and the noise was tremendous. Once he release the brakes, the SR-71 was on approach for landing at Beale three and a half hours later while it took us two days and 16 flying hours later cruising at Mach .74 to get there with the rest of the support package.

 

Satellite's today gather much of the photo intelligence in real time that the SR-71's brought back on film. You also have to wonder about some of our capabilities today that we never hear about much like the initial years of the SR-71 family.

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That's great additional info, you guys, thanks. I've always been fascinated by the SR-71 and it's abilities. There is a story (with pictures) floating around by one of the 71's pilots as he flies a mission over N. Africa. It's pretty interesting and I'm sure most everyone has read it by now, but if not, look it up.

 

John

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John,Thanks for posting. Great back story on the haul job from Burbank to A51. Kelly Johnson http://en.wikipedia....hnson_(engineer) and the Skunk Works team were geniuses. My father (a USAF O-6) was involved in the fuel/lubricant systems and I had several opportunities to see these beauties at Beale in NorCal. Takeoffs were done with minimal lbs. of JP-7 and 2 KC-135's were always on station ready to provide a top off before they headed off to take pictures...Blackbirds_zpse54490a1.jpg

I remember reading the YF-12's / SR-71's would leak fuel on the runway till they got airborne. After that the fuel tanks would expand to a point where the tankers could top them off.I know originally they were called A-12's, F-12's and YF-12's, they did built 12 of them. Didn't one of them crash? In the picture SoCalSGT provided it shows only 11.Great post SoCalSGT! If you find any more like this post it. Edited by BAD SNAKE
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That is way cool. I wish I could find an article I read a couple years ago from an SR71 pilot who was sharing some of his memoirs. He had great stories including setting the speed record from LA to NY on one of the last SR71 flights (and that record still stands). Another story he had was a rediculously low fly by to impress some top brass at the request of a superior officer to show off the plane and demonstrate its capabilities. As the story goes, it was extremely foggy with low visibility and the pilot kept searching for this group he was supposed to fly over and took his eyes off the altimeter and airspeed a little too long. About the same time he saw the group he realized he was about to stall out over the airfield and lit the afterburners... needless to say the top brass got more than they expected. I think he said he was a little over 130 knots and about 150 feet off the deck when he throttled up. Imagine seeing, feeling and hearing an SR71 that close in full afterburner. Later he and his RSO landed and promised each other they would never fly that low and slow ever again. And then they promptly changed their shorts.

 

The last story I thought was funny was a routine flight at altitude when the pilot received some radio traffic with other aircraft in the area radioing in to a local tower to confirm altitude and airspeed. First plane he heard was a Cessna who requested the ground to verify airspeed. The tower came back at 3500 (feet) at 152 (mph). Next pilot was flying a twin engined Beechcraft who pinged the tower: 225 at 5000. Then he heard another pilot come over the radio requesting the same. Response from the tower: 28500 at 1150. He realized that was an F15 pilot who was obviously showing off making that request to a civilian tower so he decided to chime in as well. Response from the tower: 72,000 at 2,125. After that the radio went silent. :hysterical2:

 

What an awesome plane flown by heros. Hard to find heros these days....

Edited by ViperNC
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That is way cool. I wish I could find an article I read a couple years ago from an SR71 pilot who was sharing some of his memoirs. He had great stories including setting the speed record from LA to NY on one of the last SR71 flights (and that record still stands). Another story he had was a rediculously low fly by to impress some top brass at the request of a superior officer to show off the plane and demonstrate its capabilities. As the story goes, it was extremely foggy with low visibility and the pilot kept searching for this group he was supposed to fly over and took his eyes off the altimeter and airspeed a little too long. About the same time he saw the group he realized he was about to stall out over the airfield and lit the afterburners... needless to say the top brass got more than they expected. I think he said he was a little over 130 knots and about 150 feet off the deck when he throttled up. Imagine seeing, feeling and hearing an SR71 that close in full afterburner. Later he and his RSO landed and promised each other they would never fly that low and slow ever again. And then they promptly changed their shorts.

 

The last story I thought was funny was a routine flight at altitude when the pilot received some radio traffic with other aircraft in the area radioing in to a local tower to confirm altitude and airspeed. First plane he heard was a Cessna who requested the ground to verify airspeed. The tower came back at 3500 (feet) at 152 (mph). Next pilot was flying a twin engined Beechcraft who pinged the tower: 225 at 5000. Then he heard another pilot come over the radio requesting the same. Response from the tower: 28500 at 1150. He realized that was an F15 pilot who was obviously showing off making that request to a civilian tower so he decided to chime in as well. Response from the tower: 72,000 at 2,125. After that the radio went silent. :hysterical2:

 

What an awesome plane flown by heros. Hard to find heros these days....

 

 

Some great stories right there...................thanks for posting Viper.

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Here is a refueling pic taken over Northern California. This was a routine activity since the Blackbird's "burn" rate averaged 40,000 lbs. of fuel per hour of flight operation. As Bill noted above, they were incredibly expensive to operate and maintain. However, I think they were instrumental in helping to bring a close to the Cold War due to the intel they provided.

 

SR71_refuel.jpg

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There was an excellent book published by Brian Shul, an SR 71 pilot. I have a copy and it one of the best written and photographed aviation books out there. It's called 'Sled Driver' and recounts many of his adventures.

The SR-71 was actually called the RS-71, but when the time for it's unveiling announcement came, President Johnson got it reversed, so it had its designation quickly changed to save face for the President.

If anyone is in or visits the Mobile, Ala. area, there is an A-12 on display at the USS Alabama facility. For years it was touted as an SR-71 Blackbird. It isn't.

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My former commander was the NAV on an SR, He told me a story where local authorities were looking for the body of a missing woman in a certain area. They requested help from an SR commandser. He flew the mission. Unfortuantely, the SR was so sensative, i picked up single oil spots in the road! I wish I could remember more of his stories. I believe he told me, when the towers would pick them up, they were already long gone!

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There are so many amazing stories about the Blackbirds you could fill volumes with stories. I used to fly C-141’s with a former SR-71 pilot and he had some great stories. One of the reasons they always air refueled immediately after takeoff was takeoffs were usually made with minimum fuel on board. The aircraft leaked terribly when static sitting on the ground but once airborne and up to speed the aircraft would heat up and “grow” about 11 inches and the leaks would seal up. The fuel was a boron based fuel called JP-7. I once hauled 80K pounds of it into a classified location in Mediterranean in a C-141 and I noticed it had no Haz Mat labels for flammability. I asked and was told we had nothing on our aircraft that could ignite it. They used a chemical called “TEB” (triethylborane) which when exposed to the atmosphere ignited and burned the JP-7. It was injected into the engines at startup. They used an engine start cart powered by two Oldsmobile Big Block motors (I’ve heard both 425 and 455 ci) to turn the J-58’s over for engine starts. Once I was told a power unit caught fire in the hanger next to a SR-71 and the MX folks actually used the leaked JP-7 sitting on the hanger floor, sweeping it up to douse the flames and save the aircraft.

 

The empty weight of the aircraft was just under 70,000 pounds could take over 100,000 pound of fuel for a gross weight of over 170,000 for flight. The aircraft got so hot in flight at Mach 3+ that the fuel was routed all throughout the aircraft to cool it at cruise during the mission. Once the mission was complete prior to landing they would hold a pattern until the aircraft had cooled somewhat and even after landing, they was a set time period before MX could be done on the aircraft until it had cooled sufficiently. They were (are) amazing aircraft even considering its 50+ year old technology. 32 built, 12 lost,the rest in museums and long term storage now.

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"What an awesome plane flown by heros. Hard to find heros these days.... "

 

Yes it is. But fortunately they are still around. Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I were lucky enough to attend the wedding of a close family friend's son who happens to be a Lt. Commander and a Navy SEAL. His brother was his best man and happens to be an F/A18 pilot. He flies off the USS Carl Vincent (you might remember the VIP that was on board for a short time!).

 

As these two boys have grown we've been fortunate enough to watch their development and share in their growth in the military. We've been around their friends, been at their parties, and yes, shared in some grief. But through it all, one thing has always stood out; incredibly humble heroes - all.

 

John

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I found the article referred to earlier. It's written by one of the pilots of the Blackbird and shares some of the highlights of previous entries in the thread.

Enjoy,

John

 

 

Interesting history lesson for those of you so inclined

 

SR-71 Blackbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

In April 1986, following an attack on American

soldiers in a Berlin disco, President Reagan

ordered the bombing of Muammar Qaddafi's

terrorist camps in Libya . My duty was to fly

over Libya and take photos recording the

damage our F-111's had inflicted.. Qaddafi

had established a 'line of death,' a territorial

marking across the Gulf of Sidra , swearing

to shoot down any intruder that crossed the

boundary. On the morning of April 15,

I rocketed past the line at 2,125 mph.

 

 

I was piloting the SR-71 spy plane, the world's

fastest jet, accompanied by a Marine Major (Walt),

the aircraft's reconnaissance systems officer (RSO).

We had crossed into Libya and were approaching

our final turn over the bleak desert landscape when

Walt informed me that he was receiving missile

launch signals. I quickly increased our speed,

calculating the time it would take for the

weapons-most likely SA-2 and SA-4 surface-to-air

missiles capable of Mach 5 - to reach our altitude.

I estimated that we could beat the rocket-powered

missiles to the turn and stayed our course, betting

our lives on the plane's performance.

 

 

After several agonizingly long seconds, we made

the turn and blasted toward the Mediterranean .

'You might want to pull it back,' Walt suggested.

It was then that I noticed I still had the throttles

full forward. The plane was flying a mile every 1.6

seconds, well above our Mach 3.2 limit. It was

the fastest we would ever fly. I pulled the throttles

to idle just south of Sicily , but we still overran

the refueling tanker awaiting us over Gibraltar .

 

 

Scores of significant aircraft have been produced

in the 100 years of flight, following the achievements

of the Wright brothers, which we celebrate in

December. Aircraft such as the Boeing 707,

the F-86 Sabre Jet, and the P-51 Mustang are

among the important machines that have flown

our skies. But the SR-71, also known as the

Blackbird, stands alone as a significant contributor

to Cold War victory and as the fastest plane

ever-and only 93 Air Force pilots ever steered

the 'sled,' as we called our aircraft.

 

 

 

The SR-71 was the brainchild of Kelly Johnson,

the famed Lockheed designer who created the

P-38, the F-104 Starfighter, and the U-2. After

the Soviets shot down Gary Powers' U-2 in 1960,

Johnson began to develop an aircraft that would

fly three miles higher and five times faster than

the spy plane-and still be capable of photographing

your license plate. However, flying at 2,000 mph

would create intense heat on the aircraft's skin.

Lockheed engineers used a titanium alloy to

construct more than 90 percent of the SR-71,

creating special tools and manufacturing

procedures to hand-build each of the 40 planes.

Special heat-resistant fuel, oil, and hydraulic

fluids that would function at 85,000 feet and

higher also had to be developed.

 

 

In 1962, the first Blackbird successfully flew, and

in 1966, the same year I graduated from high school,

the Air Force began flying operational SR-71 missions.

I came to the program in 1983 with a sterling record

and a recommendation from my commander,

completing the weeklong interview and meeting

Walt, my partner for the next four years He would

ride four feet behind me, working all the cameras,

radios, and electronic jamming equipment. I joked

that if we were ever captured, he was the spy and

I was just the driver. He told me to keep the pointy

end forward.

 

We trained for a year, flying out of Beale AFB in

California , Kadena Airbase in Okinawa , and RAF

Mildenhall in England . On a typical training mission,

we would take off near Sacramento , refuel over

Nevada, accelerate into Montana , obtain high Mach

over Colorado , turn right over New Mexico , speed

across the Los Angeles Basin , run up the West Coast,

turn right at Seattle , then return to Beale. Total flight

time: two hours and 40 minutes.

 

One day, high above Arizona , we were monitoring

the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us.

First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers

to check his ground speed. 'Ninety knots,' ATC replied.

A Bonanza soon made the same request.

'One-twenty on the ground,' was the reply. To our

surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a

ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was

doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator

in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the

bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed

was 'Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,'

ATC responded.

 

The situation was too ripe. I heard

the click of Walt's mike button in the rear seat.

In his most innocent voice, Walt startled the

controller by asking for a ground speed check

from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace.

In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied,

' Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.'

We did not hear another transmission on that

frequency all the way to the coast.

 

 

The Blackbird always showed us something new,

each aircraft possessing its own unique personality.

In time, we realized we were flying a national

treasure. When we taxied out of our revetments

for takeoff, people took notice. Traffic congregated

near the airfield fences, because everyone wanted

to see and hear the mighty SR-71 You could not be

a part of this program and not come to love the

airplane. Slowly, she revealed her secrets to us as

we earned her trust.

 

One moonless night, while flying a routine training

mission over the Pacific, I wondered what the sky

would look like from 84,000 feet if the cockpit lighting

were dark. While heading home on a straight course,

I slowly turned down all of the lighting, reducing the

glare and revealing the night sky.

 

Within seconds, I turned the lights back up, fearful that the jet would

know and somehow punish me. But my desire to see

the sky overruled my caution, I dimmed the lighting

again. To my amazement, I saw a bright light outside

my window. As my eyes adjusted to the view, I

realized that the brilliance was the broad expanse

of the Milky Way, now a gleaming stripe across the

sky.

 

Where dark spaces in the sky had usually

existed, there were now dense clusters of sparkling

stars. Shooting stars flashed across the canvas every

few seconds. It was like a fireworks display with no

sound.

 

I knew I had to get my eyes back on the

instruments, and reluctantly I brought my attention

back inside. To my surprise, with the cockpit lighting

still off, I could see every gauge, lit by starlight. In

the plane's mirrors, I could see the eerie shine of

my gold spacesuit incandescently illuminated in a

celestial glow. I stole one last glance out the window.

Despite our speed, we seemed still before the

heavens, humbled in the radiance of a much greater

power. For those few moments, I felt a part of

something far more significant than anything we

were doing in the plane. The sharp sound of Walt's

voice on the radio brought me back to the tasks at

hand as I prepared for our descent.

 

 

The SR-71 was an expensive aircraft to operate.

The most significant cost was tanker support, and

in 1990, confronted with budget cutbacks, the Air

Force retired the SR-71.

 

The SR-71 served six presidents, protecting America

for a quarter of a century. Unbeknownst to most

of the country, the plane flew over North Vietnam ,

Red China , North Korea , the Middle East , South

Africa , Cuba , Nicaragua , Iran , Libya , and the

Falkland Islands . On a weekly basis, the SR-71

kept watch over every Soviet nuclear submarine

and mobile missile site, and all of their troop

movements. It was a key factor in winning the

Cold War.

 

I am proud to say I flew about 500 hours in this

aircraft. I knew her well. She gave way to no plane,

proudly dragging her sonic boom through enemy

backyards with great impunity. She defeated every

missile, outran every MiG, and always brought us

home. In the first 100 years of manned flight, no

aircraft was more remarkable.

 

The Blackbird had outrun nearly 4,000 missiles,

not once taking a scratch from enemy fire.

 

On her final flight, the Blackbird , destined for

the Smithsonian National Air and Space

Museum, sped from Los Angeles to Washington

in 64 minutes, averaging 2,145 mph and

setting four speed records.

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One more little tidbit that I was told once but forgot to mention. At it's normal cruise altitude of 80,000+ feet and cruise speed of Mach 3+, it took 180 miles to make a complete 180 degree turn and head back in the direction you came. Just imagine, traveling 360 miles just to turn around and get you back to the point from which you started heading in the other direction (LOL).

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We lived in Colorado Springs from 79-86. So I think it was the spring of 85 I was mowing my grass and heard an incredible sound and all of a sudden a plane like none I'd ever seen (but knew of) flew right over my house. The planes using the N-S runway at Peterson Field flew over my house. It "rumbled" my innards. It was very rare for a sonic boom over the Springs since I think they had discontinued >Mach 1 flights over cities and people later said that they were still doing it at or near the AF Academy.

 

The next morning there was a picture of the SR71 on the field in the paper.

 

The flight path he mentions fits perfectly.

 

For a very interesting read get Kelly Johnson's "More Than My Share Of It All". It's a very good book about the Skunkworks, but also his family but also a very good book about project management.

Edited by twobjshelbys
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According to this website 50 were built and 20 were lost.

http://www.fas.org/irp/program/collect/sr-71.htm

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were 32 SR-71's built and 12 lost. The rest were the A-11/12 and YF-12's. They are looked and performed similarly but the SR-71's were the later models with more equipment and capabilities. The SR-71's are what most people remember.

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