The Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” is a long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works, which has a hard-earned reputation for making the impossible happen.
The SR-71 operates at extremely high speeds of about Mach 3.2 and altitudes of up to 85,000 ft (25,900 m) to allow it to outrace threats. The SR-71 has such sheer speed that if a surface-to-air missile launch was detected, the bird would simply outfly the missile. The Blackbird evaded all 4,000 missiles fired at it and, to this day, remains the only Air Force aircraft to never lose a crewmember associated with it; whether in the air or on the ground. While flying above 80,000 feet. Six different cameras or sensors on the Blackbird were able to photograph over 100,000 square miles in an hour. Let’s take a look into what made the SR-71 blackbird unparalleled.
“Because of the way the fuselage bends and the wing curves and twists, it looks more organic than mechanical. Most conventional airplanes look like someone built them – this one almost looks like it was grown.” Peter Merlin
The SR-71 is still considered the coolest-looking jet ever created. With a long nose and huge after-burners, the jet still looks modern and simply out of a James Bond movie. The Blackbird was designed to operate at extreme velocities, altitudes, and temperatures. The black paint job, designed to increase the emission of internal heat and to act as camouflage against the night sky, earned it the nickname ‘Blackbird’. Titanium was used for the first time in an aircraft and occupies 85% of the structure. Titanium was mainly preferred as the only valid option since the friction caused by air molecules passing over its surface at Mach 2.6 would melt a conventional aluminum frame. The engineering process was so cutting edge that even the tools to build the SR-71 needed to be designed from scratch.
The biggest enemy of the SR-71 was not its rivals, but heat. The jet when at Mach speeds, would heat up so much that it would cause a smooth skin to split or curl, whereas the corrugated skin would expand vertically and horizontally and increase longitudinal strength. Fuselage panels were manufactured to fit only loosely with the aircraft on the ground. Proper alignment was achieved as the airframe heated up and expanded several inches. The outer windscreen of the cockpit was made of quartz and was fused ultrasonically to the titanium frame to increase strength and durability. The temperature of the exterior of the windscreen reached about 600 °F or 316 °C during a mission.
The SR-71 was designed with two things in mind, speed and stealth. These two were the basics for the engineers to work on and design the jet. To become nearly undetectable, the engineers gave the jet a very unique and distinctive shape. The wings were blended into the body and the long blade-like surfaces along the forward fuselage, known as chines, aided in deflecting incoming radar waves. The inward-angled twin fins over the engines and the pointed engine cones also decreased the Black Bird’s radar cross-section. The lower fuselage was nearly flat giving the 107-foot SR-71 its sleek and futuristic spear look.
The SR-71 was powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 axial-flow turbojet engines, each providing 32,500 pounds of thrust – enough to power an ocean liner. These engines allowed the SR-71 to cruise at altitudes above 85,000 feet and at speeds up to Mach 3.3, which is about three times the speed of sound! The SR-71 became the highest flying and fastest jet in the world. It could fly from New York to London in under two hours while an ordinary plane would take up to eight hours. The SR-71 was so fast that it could evade a missile launched at it. Flying at a higher altitude than anti-aircraft fire could reach, faster than a missile, and barely visible to radar, the Blackbird could enter hostile airspace practically undisturbed. As a result, no Blackbird was ever shot down by enemy fire.
Pilots or Astronauts?
The people flying the SR-71 were not some ordinary pilots with the usual training. To be selected to fly the SR-71, pilots had to be considered among the Air Force’s best and due to the altitudes, they had to undergo the same rigorous physical training and examinations as NASA’s astronaut did. The pilots also needed special protection to fly the aircraft and were outfitted with pressure suits and helmets that provided pure oxygen. Regarding their uniforms, they simply could not wear their traditional black suits because they were flying at the edge of space. Instead, they wore special pressurized suits and helmets similar to astronaut gear. Hoses at the back of the helmet connected to a supply of 100 percent oxygen. Pure oxygen protected pilots suffering decompression sickness at high altitudes.
Did you know?
- The camera on the SR-71 could accurately capture the license plate of a car from 80,000 ft.
- From the cockpit at the pilot can see the curvature of the Earth and stars during daylight while flying in the top 1% of the atmosphere.
- Due to this critical fuel loss, the airplane had to be refueled immediately after takeoff, before it could continue with its mission.
- The SR-71’s cockpit was all-analog.
- A 747 rotates at about 155 knots during takeoff. The SR-71 rotates at a very fast 210 knots.
- The aircraft used parachutes in combination with wheel brakes to slow itself down.
- At top speed, the SR-71 would pass the bullet fired out of an M1 Garand Rifle by over 400 feet per second.
- During it’s 1990 retirement flight, it flew from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. in 67 minutes; a record for the fastest cross-country flight from coast to coast.
There might be newer and more advanced jets being manufactured, but no jet will ever hold the rawness and toughness of the SR-71. Arguably the most complicated jet ever built and is rightfully considered as one of the greatest feats of engineering ever. As of 2020, the SR-71 continues to hold the world record it set in 1976 for the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft. Its successor, the SR-72 is being manufactured with the first flight of the demonstrator expected in 2023, while the full-scale aircraft is expected to enter into service by 2030.
- Popular Mechanics (Cover Photo)
The B-17 Flying Fortress: A Legendary Bomber Aircraft of World War II
Let’s first listen to how the machine sounds. Enjoy!
The B-17 Flying Fortress was a critical component of the Allied forces during World War II. With its powerful engines, advanced weaponry, and remarkable durability, this bomber aircraft became an icon of American air power. Its contributions to the war effort are still felt to this day, and its legacy continues to inspire people around the world.
The B-17 Flying Fortress was designed and built by Boeing. It was a four-engine heavy bomber aircraft that first entered service in 1938. The bomber was named the “Flying Fortress” due to its powerful armament, which included multiple machine guns and cannon turrets. The aircraft could carry a heavy payload and fly at high altitudes, which made it a valuable asset for strategic bombing missions over enemy territory.
Role of B17 fortress during the war
During World War II, aircraft played a critical role in the Allied victory. It was used extensively in bombing raids over Europe, targeting strategic military and industrial targets and occupied territories. Despite the dangers of flying over enemy territory and facing intense anti-aircraft fire and enemy fighter planes, B-17 crews were determined to complete their missions. The bravery and dedication of these crews, often comprised of young men in their late teens or early twenties, helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.
How it shaped modern Warfare
The B-17 Flying Fortress was also instrumental in the development of modern air warfare tactics and technology. The lessons learned from its use in World War II helped shape the future of strategic bombing and air power and paved the way for the development of modern bomber aircraft. The bomber’s success paved the way for further advancements in aviation, and it remains an important part of aviation history today.
The aircraft was a remarkable aircraft that helped turn the tide of World War II in favor of the Allies. Its advanced design and powerful armament made it an icon of American air power, and its contributions to the war effort were critical. The legacy of the B-17 Flying Fortress serves as a reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of the men who flew and maintained these remarkable aircraft, and of the critical role they played in the defeat of tyranny and the defense of freedom.
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Unveiling of the B-21 Raider: A Look at the Next-Generation Stealth Bomber
On December 2, 2022, the U.S. Air Force unveiled the B-21 Raider, its next-generation stealth bomber, during a roll-out ceremony at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California. While certain angles of the aircraft were off-limits, the front view provided some interesting details about the highly secretive aircraft set to replace the B-1 and B-2 fleets.
The overall shape of the B-21 Raider:
The overall shape is similar to that of the B-2, though it is likely smaller in size than previously anticipated. The leading edge of the aircraft shows a different design concept from that of the B-2. The “hawk’s-beak” profile appears to be similar to the one shown in the latest renderings and less pronounced than that of the B-2. The Raider also features a different inlet configuration, and blended conformal engine nacelles cannot be seen from the front angle. A splitter plate is visible in the inlet of the Raider.
Landing Gear and Nose Doors:
The B-21 Raider has a two-wheel main landing gear (MLG), and its MLG doors have serrated edges. The nose gear door is serrated and is not attached to the gear leg but on the right side of the bay.
The Raider’s new four-piece windscreen, similar to that of the B-2 Spirit, has a different shape for the two lateral windows. The side windows appear to be arched and narrower than the ones in the front, which are about half their height.
Color and Logo:
The color of the B-21 Raider appears to be a light gray, similar to that of the RQ-180. A small Northrop Grumman Flight test badge appears in front of the nose gear wheel bay and on the upper surface of the right-hand side wing, close to the tip. The U.S. Air Force roundel appears on the left wing.
Two new photos, taken on November 28, 2022, were released shortly after the official roll-out. One provides an elevated view of the aircraft, showing that the planform is probably not a cranked arrow wing, as some shadows in the first official images seemed to suggest. The other photo is a close-up of the B-21’s nose, showing the “hawk’s-beak” profile of the new bomber from a 3/4 point of view, which appears quite similar to that of the B-2.
The B-21 Raider’s unveiling has provided some valuable insights into the aircraft’s design, though much of it remains shrouded in secrecy. The new bomber is set to be a game-changer in the U.S. Air Force’s arsenal, with advanced stealth capabilities and a range of state-of-the-art features.
Read more about the B-21 Raider
Life-Saving Technology: The F-35B’s Automatic Ejection System
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is arguably the most advanced jet ever. With countless systems to sensors onboard, the F-35 is alone at the top and usually gets lonely at the top. The F-35B variant is the most advanced of the F-35 lineup. The F-35B type, explicitly built for the Marine Corps, could break the speed of sound while in flight and perform vertical landings on the tiniest of landing pads, much like a helicopter. As advanced as the jet is, a chance for error resulting in a crash still looms.
Read Also: A Battle Of Stealth: F-22 vs F-35
The jet contains an auto-eject capability system, where the jet senses the situation automatically and decides to eject the pilot itself without the pilot having to think about whether or not it is safe to do so. The seat installed is a Martin-Baker US16E type seat which delivers a previously unseen level of well-balanced optimization across critical performance factors such as safe terrain clearance limits, physiological loading limits, pilot boarding mass, and anthropometric accommodation ranges to completely satisfy the F-35 Escape System criteria.
All versions of the F-35 aircraft will share the US16E. The sole Joint Strike Fighter model with this technology is the F-35B, which is also the first American aircraft of any sort to have this capacity.
It is unclear exactly how or by what criteria the auto-eject system judges that the aircraft is not within the pilot’s control and initiates the ejection procedure. Its precise condition on the F-35B fleet is also unknown. It is well known that the US16E seats on every F-35 type are connected to the flying systems in some other way to prevent the pilot from ejecting in dangerous circumstances. It’s interesting to note that the Cold War-era Soviet Yak-38 and Yak-141 jump planes had engine configurations more akin to the F-35B.
However, both featured vertically mounted jet engines rather than lift fans and auto-eject systems. The F-35B’s inclusion of auto-eject is directly related to how challenging the aircraft’s vertical takeoff and landing is. In the hover mode, the jet’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engine’s power is directed downward through an articulating exhaust nozzle, and a large fan is mounted vertically in the center of the fuselage to create lift. The engine directly powers the lift fan through a big drive shaft connected to a carbon clutch.
The B version of the F-35 is significantly distinct from the other two primary variants. It differs from them all in so many ways that it has affected every aspect of its essential construction.
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