Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lockheed Blackbird by Paul Crickmore

It's hard to imagine that there's a bit of information about Lockheed's SR-71 Blackbird (or Habu as those in know call her) that's not in this book.

Back when I was a wee lad and had my first real job in my chosen profession at NASA Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center, my mentor would tell me that he was responsible for an engine nacelle and cone-shaped inlet from the A-12 and every day security personnel had to inspect the crate to ensure it was still there.  Too bad all I knew about the A-12 at that time was how to spell it.

The tale begins before 1958 with the development of proposals for a reconnaissance aircraft that could fly higher (80,000 ft) and faster (in excess of three times the speed of sound) than any Soviet missile.  Kelly Johnson, Lockheed's design genius, came up with what would eventually become the A-12 for the CIA.  This aircraft eventually evolved into the SR-71 for the Air Force.

Crickmore's book covers every conceivable aspect of this aircraft: the politics of its funding and development; the technical details of every fuel pump, generator, and circuit board; every flight of every aircraft down to the crew names, tail numbers, and call signs; and the program's history from sketches on the back of an envelope to the aircraft's final retirement from service in October 1999.  There are stories from aircrew and groundcrew about flights that went well and flights that went otherwise.  Missions over the USSR, China, Viet Nam, Korea, Libya and more are covered from engine start to pilot debriefing.

My favorite story involves an aircrew who, to demonstrate their invulnerability on a mission over North Korea, tapped out Morse code using the fuel dump so that the resulting contrails read...  Well, let's say it's two words, seven letters total.

I only recognized one name in the book as someone I've actually met: a cantankerous old vice president from General Dynamics who back-in-the-day led a competitive effort to develop the A-12.   I've seen two SR-71s: one at the Air and Space Museum in Huntsville, Alabama and the other at the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.  With the disposition of every tail number included as an appendix, it should be easy to visit the others.

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