Did you know SR-71 crew members on a moonless clear night could see 3.5 trillion more stars at 80,000 feet than you can on the ground?

Did you know SR-71 crew members on a moonless clear night could see 3.5 trillion more stars at 80,000 feet than you can on the ground?

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Jun 7 2024
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The Blackbird

The SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” was a long-range, Mach 3+, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft.

B-58 navigator recalls dropping Mark-53 nuclear bomb (without plutonium pit) while flying at 500 feet and at 628 knots, low level recce missions, dinner with Doolittle Raiders and Jimmy Stewart
CLICK HERE to see The Aviation Geek Club contributor Linda Sheffield’s T-shirt designs! Linda has a personal relationship with the SR-71 because her father Butch Sheffield flew the Blackbird from test flight in 1965 until 1973. Butch’s Granddaughter’s Lisa Burroughs and Susan Miller are graphic designers. They designed most of the merchandise that is for sale on Threadless. A percentage of the profits go to Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base. This nonprofit charity is personal to the Sheffield family because they are raising money to house SR-71, #955. This was the first Blackbird that Butch Sheffield flew on Oct. 4, 1965.

The first flight of an SR-71 took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in January 1966.

The Blackbird was in a different category from anything that had come before. “Everything had to be invented. Everything,” Skunk Works legendary aircraft designer Kelly Johnson recalled in an interesting article appeared on Lockheed Martin website.

The SR-71 was conceived to operate at extreme velocities, altitudes and temperatures: actually, it was the first aircraft constructed with titanium, as the friction caused by air molecules passing over its surface at Mach 2.6 would melt a conventional aluminum frame.

No cockpit demands as much intense focus as an SR-71 Blackbird’s

The mission of the SR-71 was to take photographs, to use its sensors to pick up electronic surveillance. To safely navigate close to the enemy’s border. The Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO) handled all of that and more.

Because of the Blackbird’s unique capabilities, no cockpit demands as much intense focus as an SR-71 Blackbird’s.

As already reported, this sparked a myth: Blackbird pilots didn’t have time to look out the window of their powerful Mach 3 plane.

Did you know SR-71 crew members on a moonless clear night could see 3.5 trillion more stars at 80,000 feet than you can on the ground?
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.  Dawn at 80.000ft – SR-71 Blackbird

Actually, SR-71 pilot David Peters said that he DID look out the windows. In fact, it’s part of piloting a plane to be aware of your surroundings.

The featured image in this post is somewhat what Blackbird air crew members they would see.

It was gorgeous up there, as Peters recalls;

‘Makes me think of one of the mind games we got into.

SR-71 crew members could see 3.5 trillion more stars at 80,000 feet than you can on the ground

‘Doing the Korean DMZ out of Kadena on a moonless clear night we could see 3.5 trillion more stars at 80,000 feet than you can on the ground. That’s according to Palomar Mountain Observatory in California.

‘We would come in off the Sea of Japan and there are almost no lights. The Japanese fishing fleet is working around that area most of the time and they just have lanterns hung on the boats. [Actually the mind game that Peters refers to is seeing lights in the ocean, where there is no electricity that would cause him to double check his instruments. An SR-71 pilot constantly kept his eyes on what was going on around him as it was important to his mission.]

‘When you make the inbound turn what you see above you is very much like the [below] image of this post. What you see below is much more like what you see from the ground looking at the sky.’

Did you know SR-71 crew members on a moonless clear night could see 3.5 trillion more stars at 80,000 feet than you can on the ground?

Peters concludes;

‘It will mess up you head really quick and you jump on instruments just like you were flying in weather.’

Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Twitter X Page Habubrats SR-71 and Facebook Page Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder Habubrats for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

Cool Video Explains how SR-71 Blackbird’s J58 Turbo-Ramjet Engine Works
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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Linda Sheffield Miller

Linda Sheffield Miller

Grew up at Beale Air Force Base, California. I am a Habubrat. Graduated from North Dakota State University. Former Public School Substitute Teacher, (all subjects all grades). Member of the DAR (Daughters of the Revolutionary War). I am interested in History, especially the history of SR-71. Married, Mother of three wonderful daughters and four extremely handsome grandsons. I live near Washington, DC.
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