SR-71 Blackbird: The Ultimate Spy Plane

Owen Edwards in Smithsonian Magazine:

ScreenHunter_17 Jun. 23 16.55 The Udvar-Hazy Blackbird, identified by its tail number, 61-7972, holds several records, including: New York to London in 1 hour 54 minutes 56.4 seconds. (Another Blackbird, 61-7958, set the record for average jet speed: 2,193.167 mph.) On March 6, 1990, as it made its final flight, the Smithsonian plane set another record—Los Angeles to Dulles International Airport, outside Washington, D.C., in 1 hour 4 minutes 20 seconds (barely time for a snack and a snooze). That day, a team including Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Yeilding and Lt. Col. Joseph Vida touched the plane down at Dulles for delivery to Udvar-Hazy, the National Air and Space Museum's companion facility.

I asked Shul, a former Air Force fighter pilot and Vietnam veteran who has written two books about the Blackbird—one recounting his reconnaissance for a dramatic raid on Libya in 1986—what it was like to fly such a phenomenal craft. “It wasn't like any other airplane,” he told me. “It was terrifying, exciting, intense and humbling every time you flew. Each mission was designed to fly at a certain speed; you always knew the airplane had more. It was like driving to work in a double-A fuel dragster.”

More here.