In the early 1960s Soviet Union sold titanium to the US believing they needed it for Pizza Ovens but instead they used it to build the iconic SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3+ spy plane

In the early 1960s Soviet Union sold titanium to the US believing they needed it for Pizza Ovens but instead they used it to build the iconic SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3+ spy plane

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Jun 18 2023
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After all, they fraudulently possibly told their comrades that the United States was a lazy country that probably couldn’t even cook for itself.

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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.

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 speed of the SR-71 exceeded 2,000 mph. Other planes of the era could, in theory, approximate that speed but only in short, after-burner-driven bursts. The Blackbird maintained a record-setting speed for hours at a time. At such velocity, friction with the atmosphere generates temperatures that would melt the conventional airframe.

With temperatures on the aircraft’s leading edges exceeding 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, dealing with the heat raised a host of seemingly insurmountable design and material challenges. Titanium alloy was the only option for the airframe —providing the strength of stainless steel, a relatively light weight, and durability at the excessive temperatures.

Here are the materials you should use instead of titanium to build a Blackbird Mach 3 spy plane today

Titanium, however, proved to be a particularly sensitive material from which to build an airplane. The brittle alloy shattered if mishandled, which meant great frustration on the Skunk Works assembly line, and new training classes for Lockheed’s machinists. Conventional cadmium-plated steel tools, it was soon learned, embrittled the titanium on contact; so new tools were designed and fabricated—out of titanium.

But most important the US did not have the necessary ore. The world’s largest supplier of it was the Soviet Union, America’s enemy during the Cold War.

Titanium procurement during the Cold War was so vital to the US’ goal of defeating the Soviet Union that it had to secretly buy the metal from the very country it sought to vanquish. It was 1960 and Washington needed spy planes that could avoid detection in Soviet airspace by flying to the heavens. To make what would become the vaunted SR-71 Blackbird, Lockheed knew it had to build a light plane, but one that was strong enough to hold extra fuel to give it expansive range. The only metal that would do the job was titanium. The only place to get titanium in the needed quantities was the Soviet Union.

The US worked through Third World countries and fake companies and finally was able to ship the ore to the US to build the SR-71.

“The airplane is 92% titanium inside and out. Back when they were building the airplane the United States didn’t have the ore supplies – an ore called rutile ore. It’s a very sandy soil and it’s only found in very few parts of the world. The major supplier of the ore was the USSR. Working through Third World countries and bogus operations, they were able to get the rutile ore shipped to the United States to build the SR-71,” famous former SR-71 pilot Colonel Rich Graham said in an interesting article appeared on BBC.

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

According to the following video, one of the bogus operations mentioned by Graham saw the US asking Soviets for titanium because they needed it for pizza ovens.

And Russians easily believed that the US needed titanium for thousands of pizza ovens. After all, they fraudulently possibly told their comrades that the United States was a lazy country that probably couldn’t even cook for itself. They need it to go out to buy pizza…

This was a pivotal moment between two great powers that desperately wanted to defeat the other. Ultimately, through third parties and fake companies, the US, “managed to unobtrusively purchase the base metal from one of the world’s leading exporters – the Soviet Union,” according to the book Skunk Works by Ben Rich, a Lockheed Martin engineer who worked on the SR-71. “The Russians never had an inkling of how they were actually contributing to the creation of the airplane being rushed into construction to spy on their homeland.”

Andriy Brodskyy contributed to this article.

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 CIA

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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Comments

  1. lhalpert1 says:

    I’d heard, but not confirmed, that Russia needed wheat so thru 3rd parties our wheat was traded for Russian titanium

  2. DoggDaliLama says:

    Could that be some of the wheat (& rice) in “Product Of US” marked bags that made its way to North Vietnam?

  3. Bigfootbuttbandit says:

    Oops, I swear I hadn’t hit “send comment”- I hadn’t finished, or edited my comment yet, only banged out a 30 second first draft?
    Oh well, whatever, here-
    Wait, WHAT!? You really just said, “After all, they fraudulently possibly told their comrades that the United States was a lazy country that probably couldn’t even cook for itself.”, in this article??
    That’s hilarious! You included some silly nonsense that you imagine the folks in the USSR “possibly fraudulently” said?(multiple hysterically laughing emojis here)
    Okay then, well maybe instead of that, they “possibly” said something like, “Ha! Foolish American pizza whores! We must not pass up this golden opportunity the capitalists have unwittingly handed us on a silver platter, my comrades! For if we approve this trade, & allow them the necessary materials to build the proposed ovens, then the Americans will inevitably soonafter squander the last of what the KGB has just assured us with their highest degree of confidence, to be the Americans dangerously finite & unreplenishable supply of precious, salted cured meats, & it is a well-established fact that if any capitalist is ever denied the daily ingestion of significant quantities of pepperoni, then very soonafter invincible winged monkeys will begin crawling painfully out from their rectums, seize their beloved pets & small children, & carry the luckless victims off to the mysterious lands located somewhere over the rainbow that’s frequently found in the sky above the American central province-state of Kansas.” Which is only a marginally less likely, & equally unsubstantiated claimed scenario explaining why the Russians approved the exchange.
    Seriously though, I mean what in the holy name of Howdy Doodey kind of an excuse for quality article writing is it, to essentially portray as an actual quote, something someone “possibly fraudulently” said?
    Had you put “Maybe”, instead of “After all..”, in front of it, it wouldn’t be so problematic, but worded the way you chose to do so implies that this totally unsubstantiated notion that you can only have simply just pulled right out of your a$$ is actual evidence supporting what is your also purely assumptive, & equally likely to be entirely false assertion that the USSR “easily believed”, the false claim made by the US to have need of the metal for making pizza ovens!
    Maybe the possibility of nefarious, alternative motives lying behind the US efforts to acquire the metal simply went unconsidered by some lazy Russian bureaucrat who approved the trade? Or maybe someone over there hoped to try & create a desperately needed bit of good will between the two nuclear superpowers by agreeing to the trade? Or maybe any one of a great number of other possible scenarios is what actually occurred? Who could know?
    And they published the article like this, too… tsk tsk. This is just too craycray, & too funny!

  4. selfdo59 says:

    Utter BUNK. The Soviets, while they might not have known of some of the details of the Blackbird, were quite aware of the USAF’s interest in Mach 3+ aircraft. Trading with the “enemy” goes on quite a lot. There were things they needed, like support for the Univac and IBM mainframes they’d copied, and, after the abortive attempt to grow maize in the Ukraine, WHEAT. We needed Titanium ore. Any story about “pizza ovens” was to “save face”.

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