Well Before The SR-72 Was Conceived, The Iconic SR-71 Blackbird Proved “Speed Is The Real Stealth”

Oct 06 2017 - 19 Comments

The SR-71 Blackbird was so fast it outran every missile shoot against it and every interceptor scrambled to intercept it.

The aviation “side” of the Web went abuzz following the rumor that an SR-72 prototype was spotted performing flight tests at the U.S. Air Force’s Plant 42 at Palmdale, California.

Back in 2013, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, the legendary division that designed airplanes which represented a giant leap for their times such as the F-104, the U-2, the Blackbird family or the F-117A stealth fighter jet, reveled the existence of a project for a Hypersonic strike aircraft dubbed SR-72.

This graphic is the U.S. Air Force’s first graphic of the SR-72. All the previous concept images were relased by Lockheed Martin.

The SR-72 is an unmanned hypersonic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike platform designed for Mach 6.

Based on the concept images released by the U.S. Air Force (the first official one can be found above) is coherent with the most recent hypersonic designs and it is quite similar to at least one of the configurations studied since the early ’60s for an SR-71 Blackbird replacement.

Anyway, regardless to whether an SR-72 prototype has already started flight testing somewhere between California and Nevada, the hypersonic strike aircraft will be able to fly about twice as fast as its predecessor, the iconic Mach 3 SR-71 Blackbird, one of the fastest planes ever flown operationally.

The first concept artwork of the SR-72 released by Lockheed Martin in 2013.

The Blackbird was the first aircraft to feature stealth capabilities: a special paint that contained iron ferrites and absorbed radar energy instead of returning it to the sender was used for SR-71’s wings, tail and fuselage. The reduced RCS (Radar Cross Section) made any reaction to an SR-71 overflight almost useless: the aircraft was so fast that once the radar detected it, the SAM battery’s guidance system was not able to compute the right parameters for a successful kill. Moreover, the range and bearing of the SR-71 was also denied to the enemy by jamming the radars with the use of the sophisticated electronic countermeasures (ECM) that equipped by the Blackbird.

However, in spite of its radar-evading features, what made the SR-71 almost impossible to intercept, were its incredible flight characteristics: it was able to fly at more than 3.5 Mach at 88,000 feet. The aircraft could climb higher than that and according to some sources the Blackbird could reach 120,000 feet and above. At that altitude, Soviet SAMs would have been unable to maneuver to hit an SR-71: the air is so thin that any maneuvering capability of a missile is practically nonexistent, as explained by the former Blackbird pilot Col. Richard H. Graham in his book “SR-71 The Complete Illustrated History of THE BLACKBIRD The World’s Highest , Fastest Plane.

In 2012 a DARPA statement stated that America was gradually losing the “strategic advantage” that its stealth warplanes had long provided, as other countries’ stealth and counter-stealth capabilities continued to improve. For this reason, “speed is the new stealth” is a slogan that accompanied the unveiling of the SR-72 in 2013. However, the SR-71’s story is a proof that speed has always been the key to stealth.

Indeed, throughout its career, that came to an end on Oct. 9, 1999, no SR-71 was reportedly lost nor damaged due to hostile actions.

Not only did SAMs fail to catch the Blackbird but even the fastest Soviet fighter jets, including the MiG-31 Foxhound, lacked the necessary speed to reach the SR-71.

A Blackbird at night on the ramp at Beale Air Force Base, California.

Here below you can find an excerpt from “MiG Pilot,” a book for Soviet pilot Viktor Belenko, who defected to Japan in a MiG-25 on Dec. 6, 1976, that we have already posted in the past. Here’s what Belenko recounts :

American reconnaissance planes, SR-71s, were prowling off the coast, staying outside Soviet airspace by photographing terrain hundreds of miles inland with side – angle cameras. They taunted and toyed with the MiG-25s sent up to intercept them, scooting up to altitudes the Soviet planes could not reach, and circling leisurely above them or dashing off at speeds the Russians could not match.”

“[The Soviets] had a master plan to intercept an SR-71 by positioning a MiG-25 in front of it and one below it, and when the SR-71 passed they would fire missiles. But it never occurred. Soviet computers were very primitive, and there is no way that mission can be accomplished.”

“First of all, the SR-71 flies too high and too fast. The MiG-25 cannot reach it or catch it. Secondly…the missiles are useless above 27,000 meters [88,000 feet], and as you know, the SR-71 cruises much higher. But even if we could reach it, our missiles lack the velocity to overtake the SR-71 if they are fired in a tail chase. And if they are fired head-on, the guidance systems cannot adjust quickly enough to the high closing speed”.

As the above footage shows, NASA flew the Blackbird as well.

Four SR-71 airplanes operated from NASA Dryden during the 1990s. According to the Agency, two were used for research and two to support Air Force reactivation of the SR-71 for reconnaissance missions. Although the Air Force retired the Blackbirds in 1990, Congress reinstated funding for additional flights several years later. SR-71A (61-7980/NASA 844) arrived at Dryden on Feb. 15, 1990. It was placed into storage until 1992 and served as a research platform until its final flight on Oct. 9, 1999. SR-71A (61-7971/NASA 832) arrived at Dryden on March 19, 1990, but was returned to Air Force inventory as the first aircraft was reactivated in 1995. Along with SR-71A (61-7967), it was flown by NASA crews in support of the Air Force program. SR-71B (61-7956/NASA 831) arrived at Dryden on July 25, 1991, and served as a research platform as well as for crew training and proficiency until October 1997.

  • BehindEL

    A truly incredible airplane! American ingenuity at its finest.

  • Uniform223

    Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for I am 80000 feet and climbing…

    • Don1024

      The saying is 50,000 ft. :-)

      • Uniform223

        50k 80k… doesn’t really matter. The thing flew higher and faster than anything out there then and NOW. SR-71 crews claim that they were able to climb to 85k feet and higher… AND MAINTAIN IT.

  • rats123

    When I read jingoistic garbage like this it makes me want to puke. Let’s remove fact from fiction here.

    1) Yes, the SR71 flew fast and had RAM. However it also glowed like the sun when traveling at super sonic speeds. So there were no issues detecting it whatsoever. It’s turn rate was pathetic and as such a course had to mapped out for it’s entire route. The Soviets new where the SR71 was pretty much from when it took off

    2) The SR71 was never intercepted and shot down by the Soviets because it NEVER did anything provoking a shoot down. The SR71 flew purely over shared airspace and took photos from an angle. It never overflew Soviet airspace. The US learned about overflying Soviet airspace the hard way when Gary Powers was shot down in his “invulnerable” U2. They did not make the same mistake again

    3) The SR71 was regularly intercepted over international airspace by not only the Soviets but also the Swedes flying Saab Viggens

    4) “They taunted and toyed with the MiG-25s sent up to intercept them, scooting up to altitudes the Soviet planes could not reach, and circling leisurely above them or dashing off at speeds the Russians could not match.”

    TOTAL GARBAGE. At Mach 3 the turning circle of the SR71, already a poor turner, would be in the range of 1000kms! It would be way out over the north pole by then!

    • Uniform223

      I’m going to debunk your entire diatribe of stupid… JUST FOR FUN!

      “1) Yes, the SR71 flew fast and had RAM. However it also glowed like the sun when traveling at super sonic speeds. So there were no issues detecting it whatsoever. It’s turn rate was pathetic and as such a course had to mapped out for it’s entire route. The Soviets new where the SR71 was pretty much from when it took off”

      > That didn’t stop the SR-71 from taking pictures of Soviet areas. Even though it was red hot on the radars, its speed and altitude made it nearly impossible to do a proper intercept.

      https://theaviationist.com/2013/12/04/sr-71-speed-enemy/

      +“American reconnaissance planes, SR-71s, were prowling off the coast, staying outside Soviet airspace by photographing terrain hundreds of miles inland with side – angle cameras. They taunted and toyed with the MiG-25s sent up to intercept them, scooting up to altitudes the Soviet planes could not reach, and circling leisurely above them or dashing off at speeds the Russians could not match,” Belenko explained.

      However, according to the Mig pilot, Russians tried to intercept and shoot down a Blackbrid, but they always failed this task: “[The Soviets] had a master plan to intercept an SR-71 by positioning a MiG-25 in front of it and one below it, and when the SR-71 passed they would fire missiles. But it never occurred. Soviet computers were very primitive, and there is no way that mission can be accomplished.”

      “First of all, the SR-71 flies too high and too fast. The MiG-25 cannot reach it or catch it. Secondly…the missiles are useless above 27,000 meters [88,000 feet], and as you know, the SR-71 cruises much higher. But even if we could reach it, our missiles lack the velocity to overtake the SR-71 if they are fired in a tail chase. And if they are fired head-on, the guidance systems cannot adjust quickly enough to the high closing speed”+

      http://www.wvi.com/~sr71webmaster/sc_pg09.JPG

      Even though they knew it would be coming, it didn’t matter. The SR-71 was too high and too fast for anything the Soviets could send at the time. A good analogy would be like me trying to “intercept” and then chase down a Corvette C7 Z06 in a Ford Focus SE. Sure I could be put in the right place but I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the Z06.

      “2) The SR71 was never intercepted and shot down by the Soviets because it NEVER did anything provoking a shoot down. The SR71 flew purely over shared airspace and took photos from an angle. It never overflew Soviet airspace. The US learned about overflying Soviet airspace the hard way when Gary Powers was shot down in his “invulnerable” U2. They did not make the same mistake again”

      > Before the U-2 was shot down by a Soviet SAM… NO RUSSIAN FIGHTER or INTERCEPTOR at that time could reach the U-2. Even before the U-2, CIA and USAF were already working on its replacement… OXCART which would lead to the A-12 and later SR-71. After the U-2 shoot down US and Soviet had an agreement not to fly over each other’s air space. The SR-71 went up against plenty of Soviet made platforms and systems over air spaces that WASN’T the Soviet Union and OUT FLEW THEM ALL. NOT ONE SR-71 was ever lost to enemy action. I point to my answer to your 1st “point”. If they SR-71 did decide to go into Soviet Air Space for any reason… It would most likely be able to come out the other end. I could also make a point that no Soviet Aircraft dared to fly over US Air Space.

      “3) The SR71 was regularly intercepted over international airspace by not only the Soviets but also the Swedes flying Saab Viggens”

      > Again I point to my Ford Focus vs Corvette Z06 analogy. There is more to it simply saying, “oh I intercepted it”.

      Factor 1. How much time do have to actually intercept an engage? No aircraft has ever been able to fly as high as the SR-71 so all intercepts would be from below. If you were positioned below and in front, the closure speeds would be mind blowing. That reduces to time you have to actually track, lock, engage, and launch. Even at that speeds the SR-71 at 80000+ feet traveling at speeds above Mach 3, decides just to bank and turn 3 degrees… the intercept equation changes to even greater variables. If you were positioned below and and behind you still have to think about actual time to engage and even if you did, would your missile be able to over take the SR-71?

      http://www.f-16.net/forum/download/file.php?id=18876&mode=view

      Even if they were able to fire a missile, at that speed and altitude most if not all missiles lose the ability to maneuver. Simply put they would just go ballistic.

      “4) “They taunted and toyed with the MiG-25s sent up to intercept them, scooting up to altitudes the Soviet planes could not reach, and circling leisurely above them or dashing off at speeds the Russians could not match.”

      TOTAL GARBAGE. At Mach 3 the turning circle of the SR71, already a poor turner, would be in the range of 1000kms! It would be way out over the north pole by then!”

      > Uhhh… yeah. At mach 3 and above 80k feet, what type of turning radius do think they would have?

      Here is a full video of an SR-71 pilot interview. Far more believable than anything Kremlin authorized propaganda could ever put out…

      Here is another one…

      and another…

      A walk around and more SR-71 crews…

      Brian Shul

      Anyone who knows about the SR-71 knows that the SR-71 would leak fuel when its on the ground or flying subsonic. I can’t remember where I heard it or read it but this is a very romantic view.
      The SR-71 isn’t leaking fuel. Its crying because it wants to go high and fast…

      So any claim that the SR-71 was or can be intercepted is simply hyperbole when you actually hear and read accounts from her crews and when you look at ACTUAL FACTS and not propaganda….

      If an SR-71 wanted to take pictures of your country back then… there was nothing you could to stop it.

      • Jon National

        Heh? Exactly what have you debunked here? Talking about corvettes and Fords. I think you’ve lost it completely. Loony bin for you son.

  • Jon National

    Said the guy who posts random YouTube clips …

    • Uniform223

      Only to laugh at comments that SHOULD be laughed at… like when certain individuals claim that the Su-35 is stealthy…

      of course I do put up other videos that support my arguing points from time to time.

    • Uniform223

      Only to laugh at Kremlin controlled trolls and people who claim that the Su-35 is stealthy… you know who they are. I do put videos that validate my stances when I try to debate/argue with someone. I don’t go on diatribes of nationalism thinking that it will prove anything.

      • Jon National

        You put random nonsensical videos which do nothing to advance your argument.

        I don’t think there are any Kremlin trolls on this site but there sure are a lot of uneducated sheep. That’s for sure!

  • Here is the reference on the interception attempts of the SR-71 by the Mirage F1 of the French Air Force:

    http://secretdefense.blogs.liberation.fr/2007/07/22/quand-les-f1-ch/

    In
    the early 1970s, the appearance of the MiG 25, “Soviet cannonball,
    flying over Mach 2.5 and 60000 feet”, gives cold sweats to NATO. In France, “it is a powerful catalyst in the development of the Super 530F missile” which will equip the Mirage F1.

    Failure of MiG 25 to train, the French hunt will test its procedures
    against the Mirage IV and sometimes the SR-71 from America to Great
    Britain.

    “Launched
    at Mach 2 and over 50,000 feet, the Mirage IV made a difficult task to
    reach for the F1C patrol launched against it,” writes Frederic Lert. The interceptors ceiling at Mach 1.8 and 45000 feet. For the pilot of the interceptor, the biggest difficulty is due to the radar’s attachment of the radar to lock the shot. The speed of closeness is such that the plot crosses the small screen of the radar in ten seconds. It takes fingering … ”

    In Orange (Vaucluse), the pilots of the 5 are storming the interceptor “several times” of the American SR-71. “The black plane crosses France from the north to the south at Mach 2.8. The
    only possibility for the interceptor is to take off two Orange planes
    as the aircraft approaches the French coasts on the Dieppe side! (…) The firing window is extremely narrow and does not exceed a few seconds. In fact, it does not appear that F1C ever managed to “kill” a Blackbird, “says Fréderic Lert.

    At the time, there were rumors of MiG 25 flights to France from North Africa. Thirty years later, no reliable information has ever filtered.

  • leroy

    Correct in any language. “Rat” needs to spend a little less time in the St. Petersburg vodka saloons!

  • leroy

    The only reason we have been using Russian Soyuz to reach the ISS is because Congress didn’t fund a Space Shuttle replacement and NASA got stuck. But you remind me of an interesting point of space interest …

    Russia tried, but couldn’t master space shuttle technology even when they attempted to copy a replica of the U.S. shuttle. I wouldn’t over-rate them. Here’s where their space shuttle ended – in a no-man’s world of lost storage:

    https://humannaires.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/space-shuttle-24.jpeg

    lol! And as I recall not a single Russian ever stepped foot on the Moon. I ask WHY??? Answer? ‘Cause they couldn’t!

    • This reminds me of Black Eagle trying to sound “proud” because Russia or USSR is so GOOT and STRONK that built the first civilian nuclear reactor and first nuclear powered ship.

      But they all seem to ignore the facts, over and over that’s what Russian tech is, a cheap copy of the west, and mostly it fails.

  • leroy

    “Block User” Uniform. That said, I have nothing against you or your comments and links to YouTube videos. Say whatever you want. We are free to express our opinions, and I believe every single word I post. 100%!

  • Because of lack of alternatives. But I don’t think a single tiny example like that can beat the scores of other examples where the US beats Russia in tech, manufacturing and science.

    • vantguard

      Hackers.
      You know?

  • Don1024

    Because Congress wants it that way, otherwise they would have paid to put a system in place already.