Cold War Era

JP-7, the fuel that powered the SR-71 Blackbird caused a nationwide shortage of bug spray. Here’s why.

Shell Oil developed JP-7 in 1955. Manufacturing several hundred thousand gallons of the new fuel required the petroleum byproducts Shell normally used to make its Flit insecticide, causing a nationwide shortage of that product!

The legendary SR-71 Blackbird aircraft was powered by two 34,000 lbf (151,240 N) thrust-class J58 afterburning turbojet engines. Each engine contained a nine-stage compressor driven by a two-stage turbine. The main burner used an eight-can combustor and the afterburner is fully modulating. The primary nozzle area was variable. Above Mach 2.2, some of the airflow was bled from the fourth stage of the compressor and dumped into the augmentor inlet through six bleed-bypass tubes, circumventing the core of the engine and transitioning the propulsive cycle from a pure turbojet to a turbo-ramjet. The engine was hydromechanically controlled and burns a special low volatility jet fuel mixture known as JP7.

‘Noteworthy, JP7 production caused a nationwide shortage of bug spray,’ says our friend Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) on her Facebook Page Habubrats.

“The operating envelope of the [J58] JT11D-20 engine requires special fuel. The fuel is not only the source of energy but is also used in the engine hydraulic system. During high Mach flight, the fuel is also a heat sink for the various aircraft and engine accessories which would otherwise overheat at the high temperatures encountered. This requires a fuel having high thermal stability so that it will not break down and deposit coke and varnishes in the fuel system passages. A high luminometer number [nb 1] (brightness of flame index) is required to minimize transfer of heat to the burner parts. Other items are also significant, such as the amount of sulfur impurities tolerated. Advanced fuels, JP-7 (PWA 535) and PWA 523E, were developed to meet the above requirements,” SR-71A Flight Manual states.

SR-71 Blackbird Pratt & Whitney J58 Engine in full afterburner

Sheffield Miller explains;

‘Shell Oil developed JP-7 in 1955. Company vice president Jimmy Doolittle arranged for Shell to develop the fuel for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and United States Air Force’s (USAF) secret Lockheed U-2 spy plane, which needed a low-volatility fuel that would not evaporate at high altitude. Manufacturing several hundred thousand gallons of the new fuel required the petroleum byproducts Shell normally used to make its Flit insecticide, causing a nationwide shortage of that product!

‘One of the ingredients in JP7 just so happened to be a crucial part of Flit mosquito repellant. Bearing in mind the huge amount of fuel we’re talking about here, Shell didn’t exactly have enough supply to meet the newly increased demand, so mosquitos everywhere caught a lucky break!’

Sheffield Miller concludes;

‘JP7 Had a high flashpoint was not flammable, every time an SR 71 needed fuel …tankers were always there, they were terrific and deserve high praise.’

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

Photo credit: NASA and U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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