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SR-71 Blackbird
Decades ahead of its time.
Like an artifact from some superior alien civilization, the SR-71 seems to lack a context: it appeared out of nothing. It is sui generis, unique, did not evolve from an obvious predecessor and had no immediate successors.

Here is the root fact: the fastest (2,200mph), highest flying (85,000 ft) non-rocket aircraft was built 40 years ago. Before computer-aided design, before advanced composites, even before much of the space program, Kelly Johnson and his Skunk Works produced a visionary aircraft that could still be of service today and in performance would still be leading edge. It still owns several speed records.

None was ever shot down, because nothing could catch it. It simply outran or overflew the estimated 1,000 missiles thrown at it.

Of course it was taken out of service 10 years ago, due to political logic that is hard to comprehend. A high-flying spy plane is more flexible than a spy satellite. It can get to any spot on earth before a satellite's orbit can be moved. The development costs of the SR-71 have long since been paid for, keeping them flying would be cheap compared to developing a new aircraft.

Posted 2/23/01; © 2001 John P. Nordin