If there’s one aircraft that has always been a favourite amongst SF fans, it is the SR-71 Blackbird. A larger version modified to carry passengers became the vehicle of choice for the New X-Men when artist Dave Cockrum who liked the stealth plane on his first tenure on the revised comicbook in 1976 which carried over to the films. The Blackbird has also appeared in the SF film ‘D.A.R.Y.L’, although reading this book, the inaccuracies are very apparent, especially when it comes to making the aircraft flight ready and fuelling.
However, the real story behind the recognisance fastest airplane ever is even more interesting and as authors Steve Davies and Paul Crickmore note in the introduction to this book that although written about before, has not been as comprehensive as here. Hardly surprising when they have information from pilots to ground crew who worked on the jet providing technical information and photographs. Although put into retirement in the late 1990s, those kept in museums are actually in ‘flyable storage’. Ergo, if they are ever needed again, then the Blackbird could once more soar.
Although we call it the Blackbird, to these flight crews, they prefer to call it the Habu, the name of a poisonous pit viper. As we outsiders call it the Blackbird, I’ll stick to that name here. One odd detail omitted is President Johnson in his announcement of the Blackbird’s existence instead of calling it the RS-71 muddles it and the SR-71 which then became its official designation to save his face. It did help a little that it hadn’t taken its maiden flight at the time of his announcement.
A lot of interesting facts come out of this book, including the times when the Blackbird was housed in the UK and oddly how France continually denied it the use of its air space crossing the continent causing continual detours. It was hardly like it would be over France that long. Indeed, as pointed out later in the book, the actual recognisance run wasn’t more than about twenty minutes once it arrived at the destination.
Beyond the history, we come to the real gubbins of the book. A look at the jet seeing it being built and all the glorious plans. Something I hadn’t realised before was 70% of the fuselage were fuel tanks and storage for nitrogen to ensure that the empty tanks were filled with something when empty to avoid them compressing. After all, the Blackbird is a high altitude flyer where the extremes of heat, cold and low air pressure means a lot more consideration has to be made to its manufacture and the safety of the pilots.
Lockheed didn’t regard the Blackbird as being stealth but on page 57, the big reveal of composites along its edges does explain how it had such a low radar signature in the air which has nothing to do with the paint job.
Seeing the preparation the pilots go through for a flight did make me wonder how they could get out of their flight spacesuits should they ever have to bail out. Interestingly, there is a photo of two pilots on page 105 with a front zipper down, so obviously they can get out of the suits unaided.
Although I’m not sure if the technical details will be understood by all ages, I learnt far more from this book than a novice would and the complications of how everything is made to work. I was also surprised by how much each aircraft could be stripped down between flights. The political shenanigans behind the scenes that had the Blackbird fleet mothballed because it was expensive is touched on but not in much detail but certainly, the US Navy amongst others, didn’t want it to happen. Spy satellites might be seen as being satisfactory but it takes a lot of manoeuvring to look over any particular spot of interest compared to the Blackbird.
This is an incredibly interesting book and I was positively riveted by insight from pilot Rich Graham and crew chief Mike Relja. As to the photographs. More than enough for everyone’s collection. There are a lot of Blackbird fans out there, so don’t let this one slip your grasp.
(pub: Haynes. 156 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: £21.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-85733-156-4)
check out website: www.haynes.co.uk