Developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft, the first flight of the SR-71 Mach 3 + spy plane took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first aircraft to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in January 1966.
Throughout its nearly 24-year career, the SR-71 remained the world’s fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft. From 80,000 feet, it could survey 100,000 square miles of Earth’s surface per hour.
Colonel (ret) Richard Graham, who is the author of several books on the SR-71 Blackbird, flew this aircraft for seven years and ended up with 756 hours in the cockpit of this unique Mach 3+ jet. He also told BBC Future some of his incredible stories about the world’s fastest plane.
One such story concerned an SR-71’s unfortunate slip-and-slide near-accident at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.
Japan is known for its sudden and heavy rainstorms, and Okinawa is no stranger to these events. While rain poses a certain danger for all planes—mainly because of decreased visibility—the storm had a particularly unfortunate effect on one SR-71, which was returning from a mission at the time and taxiing into a hangar. As the plane entered the hangar, it encountered water on the ground, which had mixed with the SR-71’s specialized JP-7 fuel [CLICK HERE to read why producing thousand gallons of JP-7 fuel used in the SR-71 Blackbird caused a nationwide shortage of Flit insecticide]. Together, the two liquids created an extremely slippery surface, preventing the Blackbird’s wheels from gaining any traction on the hangar’s floor.
‘Rainstorms could be deadly: “In Okinawa, unfortunately, we had a lot of rainstorms which just come out of nowhere. And when you mix JP-7 with a little bit of rain it gets very, very slippery on the ground. An SR-71 was coming back from a mission. He was coming back into the hangar. Don [ Don Emmons, Graham’s navigator] and I were on back-up duty so we were in the hangar. As he came in to the hangar, he slows down, he’s right on the centreline… and we notice his brakes are locked up, the wheels aren’t rotating anymore, and he’s still going through the hangar, sliding. And you would not believe how many maintenance people realised immediately something was wrong with this airplane. We had maintenance guys throwing chocks under the wheel but it kept on moving. Don and I were grabbing on to the wingtip to try and stop it, people were grabbing every part of the airplane as they realised it was an emergency. It was like a dream in slow motion as this airplane just went through the hangar. And it stopped, when the main wheels just caught the other side of the hangar onto the concrete. And its pitot tube, the tube at the front, came about a foot from ramming a curved blast deflector we have for jet engines.”’
Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Facebook Pages Habubrats SR-71 and Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Peter Grassberger Own Work via Wikipedia
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