“The SR-71 Blackbird knew when your eyes started to wander to the spectacle of earth from 85,000 feet; that’s when something would go wrong,” Curt Mason, owner of Project Habu website.
During its career, the SR-71 Blackbird gathered intelligence in some of the world’s most hostile environments.
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.
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.
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, and in frustrating irony, no cockpit offers a better view,” says Curt Mason, owner of Project Habu website who kindly shared the unique photos in this post with us.
“There was no time to look out the window. The plane knew when your eyes started to wander to the spectacle of earth from 85,000 feet; that’s when something would go wrong. There was much to monitor. The many “steam gauge” instruments reflect a bygone era, giving the pilot information ranging from heading to compressor inlet temperature, each dial representing a critically important system.
“Even though this cockpit was operated through 2,854 flight hours, it looks brand new. That’s because it was only ever flown using the gloved hands of a crew member wearing the essential high altitude pressure suit. Every control is large enough to be adjusted with those bulky pressure suit gloves.
“You sit atop your throne, the SR-1 ejection seat, which carries a rare 100% success rate. To operate the circuit breakers, you must reach beside and behind your seat, outside your field of view through the pressure suit helmet. To make sure you actuate the correct breaker, you count down the rows and columns by feel.”
“March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California, is kind enough to display SR-71A 17975 with her cockpit open. This gives us a rare peek inside the world of the Blackbird, allowing us to look inside something that was formerly top secret and reserved only for a privileged few crew members. These photos were captured using a camera extended into the cockpit via monopod. At no point did I or my equipment come in contact with the artifact.”
Photo credit: Curt Mason / Project Habu and U.S. Air Force
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.
When the pilots first looked at the cockpit, they realized that it was laid out in a manner that made it almost impossible to fly. Pilots are trained to constantly scan their instruments. Skunkworks was told and they did layout the controls and switches so that a pilot on startup worked from the left to the right of the control panels. Below 50,000 feet, the SR-71 flew at speeds of around 500 mph. As it gained altitude, the pilot had to adjust the inlets and very carefully monitor the engine temperatures. Atmospheric conditions were a huge factor in the ability of the SR-71 to fly at the speeds it did, so no flight was like the last. The pilots workload keeps him very busy. I addition, the aircraft relied upon a network of refueling aircraft, so the pilot had to be perfect with the navigation. getting lost at over 1000 mph plus could be a fatal mistake.
I have always admired this aircraft as the best one ever built or ever will be built certainly in my lifetime. It is still a technological marvel.
When I was at the Hazy Center, Air & Space I just had to get up close and personal… Touching its exterior. It would have been nice to borrow it for a few hours but I couldn’t find the support staff.