Did you know the solid quartz glass of the canopy of the SR-71 Blackbird cockpit was 1.25 inches thick and was hot to the touch from the inside?

Did you know the solid quartz glass of the canopy of the SR-71 Blackbird cockpit was 1.25 inches thick and was hot to the touch from the inside?

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Mar 18 2023
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SR-71 Blackbird Pilots and RSOs, even with gloves on, couldn’t keep their hands by the glass for more than a few seconds without doing damage.

SR-71 Shop
CLICK HERE to buy unique SR-71 Blackbird merchandise for your HABU collection.

During its career, the SR-71 Blackbird gathered intelligence in some of the world’s most hostile environments. 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.

Its engineering was so cutting edge that even the tools to build the SR-71 needed to be designed from scratch.

There are so many interesting facts about the legendary Blackbird.

How to pee at Mach 3: former SR-71 driver explains how to go to the bathroom while flying the iconic Blackbird

For instance, the glass of the canopy of the SR-71 cockpit was made of 1.25-inch thick solid quartz.

Yes, the solid quartz glass of the canopy was 1.25 inches thick and was hot to the touch from the inside!

According to Military Machine, pilots and RSOs, even with gloves on, couldn’t keep their hands by the glass for more than a few seconds without doing damage. The crewmembers wore David Clark Company’s pressured suits for their protection. The David Clark Company’s pressured suits made it possible for SR-71 crew members to fly at altitudes that would otherwise kill them! Flying the SR 71 as RSO was my father’s job. He had been a Blackbird backseater for 8 1/2 years when I was growing up and thankfully I had no idea what Daddy was doing at work.

Did you know the solid quartz glass of the canopy of the SR-71 Blackbird cockpit was 1.25 inches thick and was hot to the touch from the inside?
SR-71 canopy. Image by Curt Mason

Let’s talk about the windows in the SR-71 and about the severe heat the windshield of the SR-71 would experience at top speeds. Skunk Works Designers ultimately decided that using solid quartz for the windshield was the best way to prevent any blur or window distortion under these conditions, so they ultrasonically fused the solid quartz to the aircraft’s titanium hull to make the quietest cockpit possible; the estimated temperature of the outside of the cockpit of 600 degrees F.

As reported by The SR-71 Blackbird website, the integrity of the double solid quartz camera window demanded special attention because of the optical distortion caused by the effect of great heat (600 degrees F.) on the outside of the window and a much lower temperature (150 degrees F.) on the inside could keep the cameras from taking usable photographs. Three years and $2 million later, the Corning Glass Works came up with a solution: the window was fused to its metal frame by a novel process using high frequency sound waves.

SR-71 print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 “Skunkworks”

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 and Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

Photo credit: Curt Mason, U.S. Air Force and NASA

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird model
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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  1. Michael Plemon says:

    In 1985 I was a US Marine stationed at Okinawa, Japan. I was at Kadena AFB when I first saw the SR-71. As soon as it took off it pitched upwards at about 75°-80° and quickly disappeared into the clouds. It must’ve created a vacuum as it went upwards into the clouds because I could’ve sworn I saw some of the clouds being sucked up with it. Now I’ll admit, at that time I may have had a little too much to drink the previous night plus it occurred nearly 40 years ago, but that’s how I remember it happening. Either way, I thought is was a very impressive sight since it was such a unique looking aircraft. Apparently so did the dozen or more locals gathered outside the base with their cameras equipped with telephoto lenses mounted on tripods.
    The Habu may be officially retired but something had to replace it. I live only a couple hours away from Area 51 and every now and then you’ll see contrails in large oval patterns in the sky, but too far away to see what’s making them. And no, I dont drink anymore. 😉 lol We may eventually in 30-40 years learn about that aircraft as it retires.

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