By J.D. Roy
If there was a reconnaissance platform in the world today that could, fly at speeds greater than a 30-06 bullet and survey over 100,000 square miles in one hour, it would make sense to use it. There is such an aircraft, designed not on a supercomputer, but by a designer with paper and a slide rule in 1958. This aircraft the, SR71 Blackbird designed by the Skunk Works at Lockheed Martin, is the topic of this paper. What is really surprising is the fact that the United States Air Force retired this plane due to budget cut backs. Since then, Congress has brought the SR71 in and out of active service. Today, only two SR71s are flying for NASA as high altitude, test beds. Its true capabilities not being met by this testing, the SR71 Blackbird should be brought back into active duty.
The original reason this aircraft was retired was its operating costs, at around $200,000 dollars per hour. While this is true, it is well worth the operating costs because of what it does. In just two hours it could survey a county the size of France, something the existing reconnaissance platforms can not do. Another feature is the lack of a practical defense system capable of stopping it and that technology is often more expensive then the SR71s' operating costs. The other factor of cost is the loss of qualified pilots and service personnel when these aircraft are retired from NASA. The cost of retraining and remaking parts would be astronomical. The value of this plane and its technology is greater than the operating costs involved.
The technology involved in this aircraft is amazing; it was even the world's first stealth plane! The SR71's unique stealth shape has earned it the nickname "Habu" after a Japanese Cobra like snake which it resembles. Its engines, on full after burner are powerful enough to create a diamond shaped shock wave that is 125 feet long. At altitudes upwards of 80,000 feet and a maximum speed of Mach 3.5, it is the highest flying, fastest jet powered aircraft on the planet. Additionally, it is one of the few of aircraft that can fly at sustained Mach speeds. Its navigation system is also revolutionary, because Skunk works this designed this system before there was navigation satellites it uses a stellar navigation system. In a computer is stored the location of sixty stars and it locks onto stellar formations to find its location over the earth. Designed in 1956-1958, the designers had to start from scratch due to its high performance requirements. This plane is and was a powerful and technological powerhouse that deserves to be in active duty today.
Due to the abilities of this technological aircraft, it is much more flexible then the other reconnaissance platforms available today. It only has two real rivals: the spy satellite and the U-2. Spy satellites are traceable by most enemies and these enemies can just cover up their military assets when the known time comes. Satellites are also expensive to maintain and move. The price of keeping a constant link with them once was quoted in the billions of dollars per year; where as the SR71 cost around half of that along with the ability to be anywhere in the world within hours. The U-2, having been shot down several times in the 1950's, is vulnerable to most potential enemies defenses and it has no practical way to be stealthy. The U-2 also has the weakness of only being able to survey a fraction of the territory the SR71 can in an hour. Along with those weaknesses, the U-2 can cost just as much to operate as the SR71 can. The SR71 has proven, in the past thirty years, to be one of the best available reconnaissance platforms in the world.
Recently cut, one of the best reconnaissance platforms in the world is no longer used in this country for its intended job. Unless action is taken soon, the unknown reasons for its premature cancellation will seal SR71's fate. In fact, using the now unconstitutional Line Item Veto power, President Clinton completely cut the SR71 out of the budget and ending its service life permanently. Any parties interested in saving this vital piece of military and aviation technology should write their states Congressman or Representative. Many peoples help is required to save these planes from becoming museum pieces.