SR-71 News and Information



Here is the Latest News to Report to You:


October 15, 1999

By Leslie A. Williams Public Affairs Specialist

A 1999 four-flight research series for the SR-71 Blackbird, with a 41-foot-long test fixture mounted atop of the rear section of the aircraft, wrapped up Sept. 27 at Dryden. The flights showed that the fixture barely impacted the SR-71's stability, handling and flying characteristics while soaring at Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound. SR-71 Project Manager Steve Schmidt is pleased with the flight series. "It went better than we predicted. Now we will wait for an opportunity, or a customer with a project. There are several in the wings," he said.

"It flew like a scalded cat," said the SR-71 flight test engineer Marta Bohn-Meyer. She said the plane was unbelievable in how it pushed to go faster.

The SR-71 stopped short of reaching one test point of going more than Mach 3 due to the failure of the liquid nitrogen system that was used to purge the test fixture. Without proper purge, there was a concern of overheating the fixture's internal systems. This purge system has proven very effective in past flights, said Tim Moes, Dryden's chief engineer for these research flights.

He added that the cause of the purge system failure is now well understood and procedures will be instituted to prevent this failure in the future. Although the two-hour flight did not reach Mach 3.2, the combined four-flight series proved that the SR-71 is a viable testbed for future technologies that need a high-speed, high-altitude flight environment.

Data obtained on the previous flight to Mach 3 can be confidently extrapolated to Mach 3.2, Moes said. Unlike wind tunnels that are constrained by its walls, the SR-71 airplane flies in actual atmospheric conditions, such as moisture and temperatures, at extreme altitudes and speeds making it an ideal testbed for supersonic flight.

NASA's Revolutionary Concepts (REVCON) project is one example of possible future use of the SR-71 as a testbed. The RevCon project encourages the development of ideas that could lead to revolutionary experimental planes.

The Pulse Detonation Engine (PDE), one of the first RevCon projects, is a revolutionary approach for future high-speed jet propulsion. The engine will have fewer parts, yet greater propulsion efficiency, resulting in lower maintenance and direct operating costs. A proposal to fly the PDE captive carry atop the rear section of Dryden's SR-71 Blackbird is being discussed.



Payload to attract private research

By DON JERGLER Valley Press Business Editor

The Antelope Valley Press. August 17, 1999

EDWARDS AFB - A tremendous roar thundered over the high desert Monday as the SR-71 spy plane punched through the skies above the Antelope Valley carrying on its back 10,000 pounds of steel, and nearly all hope for its own future. As the engines revved, a seemingly endless stream of searing exhaust contorted the image of Joshua trees in the background. The long, black, ominous frame rolled forward, then up toward the heavens, where, even saddled with a massive testing platform, it easily cruised to Mach 3 -- about 2,000 mph at an altitude of 75,000 feet, or three times the speed of sound. We're reaching into the unknown," said Steven Schmidt, manager of a program that for the time being aims to save the Cold War warrior from an existence as a centerpiece in aerospace museums. Schmidt and other engineers at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center mounted the testing platform on the SR-71's back, hoping it will make an inviting laboratory for private industry. Monday's was the third flight with the 40-foot platform. Engineers are testing the plane for handling capabilities while carrying the hunk of steel at supersonic speeds. Monday's test was to Mach 3.0. A test scheduled for sometime in September will have the pilots take the jet to its unclassified envelope, Mach 3.3 - more than 2,200 mph - at altitudes of over 85,000 feet. Mach 3 is faster than a 30.06 rifle bullet. Eventually, if talks scheduled for this week between NASA and interested aerospace corporations go well, Schmidt said, the platform will be fitted with prototype rocket engines, which burn both fuel and air. The engines could eventually be used on reusable, single stage-to-orbit - space vehicles. The research role is not new for the SR-71. in 1993, a science camera platform for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was mounted and flown on the Blackbird. The jet also has been used by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, to test the use of charged chlorine atoms to protect and rebuild the Earth's ozone layer. It's been a tested for the development of a satellite based wireless communications network. Most recently, the SR-71 was used as a flying wind tunnel in 1998. Mounted with Lockheed Martin's linear aerospike experiment, it made seven flights to help Lockheed test how the operation of an aerospike engine will affect the aerodynamics of future reusable launch vehicles. Those rocket engine tests were for the X-33, a prototype of the Venture Star space shuttle follow-on. The advantage of the SR-71, NASA engineers, say, is that it provides real-life conditions for testing that a wind tunnel cannot reproduce. Also, wind tunnels are not capable of sustaining speeds at Mach 3, which are needed for testing the prototype engines. The SR-71 cruises at Mach 3, with a reported top speed of Mach 3.2 some contest this is a low estimate the government gives to keep certain aspects of the former spy plane a secret. According to Schmidt, at Mach 3 the SR-71's pilots must throttle hack to keep the plane from naturally climbing to faster speeds. We've got no problem with thrust," he said. While its speed and high-altitude capabilities make it the fastest, highest-flying plane in use, the jet's operating costs make it a target for those in both Congress and the Air Force looking to reduce spending. In July, it flew for the first time in nearly a year when it took to the sky for the first of its four flights with the platform, reaching Mach 2.25 at 55,000 feet. Before that, the last flight of an SR-71 was at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center on Oct.29, 1998. For the past 10 years, the 'Blackbird's fate 'has been in question. The Cold War spy plane was first retired in 1989. In 1995, Congress brought two of the spy planes out of retirement because no comparable reconnaissance instrument had been developed. In 1996, the SR-71 program was grounded because the Air Force said funds were not authorized. Congress authorized the funds, and the Air Force flew an SR-71 in the fall. In October 1997, President Bill Clinton used the line-item veto the project, wipe out the $39 million for the SR-71, apparently ending the program. In June 1,998, the Supreme Court ruled the line-item veto unconstitutional, sending the SR-71 back into limbo. In September 1998, the Air Force asked that the $39 million be redistributed, once again ending the program. With that last decision, all orders reverted back to March 1998, when the Air Force, citing Clinton's veto, approved the aircraft's permanent retirement. Before that, the SR-71 spent decades retrieving aerial intelligence from a variety of hostile locales, including North Vietnam, North Korea, the Middle Fast and the fringes of the former Soviet Union. None of the planes were ever shot down. An SR-71 reached 2,194 mph on July 28, 1976, to set the world absolute and class speed records over a 15- to 25-kilometer straight course. That same day, another SR-71 flew to 85,069 feet, setting the record for sustained horizontal flight. Developed for the Air Force by Lockheed Skunks Works as a reconnaissance aircraft 30 years ago, need for the plane has waned as the Department of Defense began to look to cheaper, more effective surveillance methods such as satellites and continued use of the much slower U-2 spy plane. Cost estimates vary, but it is estimated that each time the plane flies, it expending $36,000 in fuel. Much of this is due to its weight. The aircraft, which is 107 feet long with a wing span of 55 feet, weighs roughly 147,000 pounds including fuel. It is estimated an SR-71 costs $30 million a year to operate. While the plane' is powered by two Pratt and Whitney J-58 axial- flow turbojets with afterburners each producing 32,500 pounds of thrust, much of the thrust used to fly at Mach 3 is produced by the movable spike system at the front of the engine, by the nozzles at the exhaust which burn air compressed in the engine. The Air Force has loaned its two SR-71s to the project.

The document was copied from:

The Antelope Valley Press. August 17, 1999


Historic spy plane flies out of retirement for use by private industry in testing new technologies.


August 01,1999

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE-Thirty-five years ago this December, government officials acknowledged the existence of a top-secret spy plane so technologically advanced, it could fly to the edge of space and cross the continent in an hour flat. The needle-shaped aircraft was powered by massive jet engines that propelled it at 35 miles a minute. Constructed with imported Russian titanium and painted midnight black, it had a sleek, sinister appearance straight out of science fiction. By the time the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was retired by the military in 1989-briefly flying again between 1995 and 1997-it had solidified its place in aviation history for flying faster and higher than any other plane. Now, a generation after the Blackbird first took wing, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Dryden Flight Research Center are showcasing the plane's unique abilities in an effort to establish a new reputation for it as a high-speed airborne laboratory for private industry. The plane, last flown July 15, is undergoing a four-month, $144,000 test program that, if successful, could keep the plane flying indefinitely. Test project manager Steven G. Schmidt says NASA is hoping to attract private industry-or anyone else-looking to test innovations in a high speed, high stress environment. "By using the unique capabilities of these airplanes, we can develop new technologies," said Schmidt. "That could set the standards for aviation well into the next century." Ten years ago the U.S. Air Force lent three SR-71s to NASA for experiments and research. It is these that are being used in the current tests. In the last decade, the Blackbirds have been used to study sonic booms, wireless satellite communications, an ultraviolet video camera, a laser air data collection system and a new engine for NASA's next-generation launch vehicle. Future missions may include studies of new earth-mapping techniques, propulsion systems that combine the properties of jets and rockets, and a study of the effects of rocket engine exhaust and volcano plumes on the ozone layer, which could lead to breakthroughs in pollution reduction, scientists say. Government policy makers say the current test program reflects a trend toward public-private partnerships in aerospace that's symbolic of something larger: a changing relationship between NASA and industry. A member of the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) said the trend amounts to role reversal. And it's likely to continue well into the future. "At the beginning, government might seek out private contractors," she said. "Down the line, NASA may be a customer, not an operator."

On a recent July morning, NASA pilot Rogers Smith and flight engineer Marta Bohn-Meyer put a Blackbird through its paces on a nearly two hour flight over a wide loop that took them over the Tehachapi Mountains, Sierra Nevada, Owens Valley, Nevada desert. Flying at about 80,000 feet, the crew members see darkness above and light emanating off a curving Earth below as they knife through the skies at nearly three times the speed of sound. "The amazement is looking down at the gauges and seeing how fast you are going," said Smith. "The only time you can appreciate how fast it is when you look down at an airliner and realize you're almost four times faster than he is." During this particular race along the aerial frontier with space, the Blackbird's performance and flying qualities are closely measured. So are the effects on its unusual cargo, a 4O foot object fastened atop the plane's rounded frame to simulate a payload. Data about how the plane and an attached object are affected by SR-71 flight conditions will be used as a baseline for future experiments, said Schmidt. Still, being used for nonmilitary applications is nothing new for the SR-71, which has been pressed into service for other missions. Boeing Co.'s Rocketdyne Division in Canoga Park has used the Blackbird to test properties of its Aerospike engine, the propulsion system that will be used to power the X-33-a prototype for a new reusable launch vehicle scheduled for 15 flight tests beginning next summer. The use of the SR-71 in the X-33 project, primarily as an airborne wind tunnel, was funded through a NASA appropriation. Scientists also have studied the physics of the Blackbird's sonic booms in hope of quieting them-a breakthrough that could someday bring supersonic or even hypersonic (above 2,200 mph) flights to commercial aviation. And with its ability to move from horizon to horizon in 15 minutes, the SR-71 has doubled as a low earth-orbiting satellite for researchers seeking to set up a network for instant wireless communication. Even critics of NASA spending, such as House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) say the new SR-71 program is a good use of taxpayers' money. "It seems to be more cost-effective to use the SR-71 than building wind tunnels," Rohrabacher said. "It's a very positive development that we are able to use the plane, which represents a major investment for the U.S., for something other than spying." Some of the research involving the SR-71 conceivably could be done in wind tunnels, Schmidt said. But the ability of the Blackbird to conduct tests in lifelike conditions, at altitudes and speeds no other plane could reach, makes it invaluable. "You can put an engine in a wind tunnel and test it at three times the speed of sound. But you can't do it for more than minutes at a time. And you're also restricted by size [of the tunnel] and cost," he said. With the Blackbird, size is no constraint because it's essentially a flying wind tunnel, and tests can be conducted for an hour or two, or whatever flying time is possible. Built during the height of the Cold War, the Blackbird was part of a remarkable string of innovations in aerospace by the late Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson and his famed team of aeronautical geniuses at the Lockheed Skunk Works in Burbank. Designed to withstand the high temperatures of the upper atmosphere, the SR-71 was developed by Johnson and company to replace the U-2 spy plane, which had become vulnerable to Soviet missiles. Special jet fuel for the SR-71 comes by rail from Texas. The plane uses so much fuel-12,000 gallons in a 90-minute flight-that it normally takes off light, to save weight, and is refueled in midair. With the loss of about 220,000 aerospace jobs over the past 10 years, officials in the Antelope Valley say projects like the current SR-71 tests and the X-33 are a welcome sign of a rebound. "We are seeing a lot more commercial interest in projects such as in reusable launch vehicles," said Carrie Rogers, economic development project manager for the city of Palmdale. Six or seven companies involved in those efforts are creating numerous jobs, she added. And as more firms are drawn to new aerospace technologies, the numbers will grow.

In the current project, two more flights are scheduled for the Blackbird-Aug. 16 and the final one in September. Beyond that, NASA officials say keeping the program running will depend on attracting interest from outside parties. Those at Dryden are not ready to ship the Blackbird off to a museum. They say they have received more than half a dozen inquiries about the SR from government agencies, private companies and even academics with research grants. "I always refer to the SR-71 as a magical, mystical airplane, not only with its history but its performance," said Smith after a recent flight. Added Schmidt, "Even though it was developed 35 years ago, this plane is way ahead of its time, even by today's standards."


Last SR-71 Flight?

Date: Sun, 18 Jul 1999 17:52:44 -0400 (EDT)

From: Mary Shafer <>

Subject: Next-to-last or last SR-71 flight flown

Well, it's getting short around here for flying the SR-71. They flew what is probably the next-to-last SR-71 flight on Thursday, although it may actually be the last if the permission doesn't come through for the add-on flight. I'm kind depressed, to be honest, and a little bored with my current assignments after the Blackbird.

Regards, Mary



July 6, 1999

NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., sent its fastest and highest-flying airplane, the SR-71A, into the air for further research flights to evaluate the SR-71's performance, handling and flying qualities with a test fixture mounted atop the aft section of the aircraft. This test fixture was originally used for the Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment (LASRE), supporting research for the X-33 program.

The flight of the SR-71 "A" model occurred on June 30, 1999, which was the first flight of this aircraft since October 29, 1998. The aircraft reached a maximum speed of Mach 2.25, about 1,450 mph at 55,000 feet. Three more flights are scheduled between July to September with the next flight planned for mid-July.

"The long anticipated prospect of getting the SR-71 aircraft back in the air is exhilarating," said Steve Schmidt, Dryden's SR-71 project manager. "This phase of the flight research program has gotten off to a great start in that the aircraft and project team performed flawlessly which is further testament of the cooperative "teamwork" that has been a sustaining hallmark of the SR-71 programs."

NASA's "B" model is used for proficiency training for pilots and the flight test engineers. Recently the "B" model completed its planned 200-hour phase inspection and has been put into flyable storage. These two SR-71s have been on loan to NASA from the U.S. Air Force, which just transferred ownership to NASA.

In addition to these two SR-71's, the Air Force turned over possession of its two other flyable SR-71s, which will complement the other two NASA planes in future flight research programs providing unsurpassed flexibility as well as additional capabilities to perform multiple high-speed research experiments.

The SR-71 can fly more than 2200 miles per hour, Mach3+ or three times the speed of sound, and at altitudes of over 85,000 feet. Data from the SR-71's high-speed research program will be used to aid designers of future supersonic and hypersonic aircraft and propulsion systems, including a high-speed civil transport. SR-71 flights have also provided information on the presence of atmospheric particles at extremely high altitudes, where future hypersonic aircraft will be operating.

As research platforms, the SR-71s carry out research and experiments in a variety of areas: aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, thermal protection materials, high-speed and high temperature instrumentation, atmospheric studies and sonic boom characteristics.

The LASRE project was a small, half-span model of a lifting body positioned on the rear of the SR-71 aircraft, which operated like an "airborne wind tunnel." The SR-71 has also acted as a surrogate satellite for transmitters and receivers on the ground, assisting in the development of a commercial satellite-based, instant and wireless, personal-communications network, called Iridium.

Another project with the SR-71 joined NASA and the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), investigating the use of charged chlorine atoms to protect and rebuild the ozone layer. Ongoing research in high-speed, high-altitude flight continues to gain interest among the scientific community, industry and other government agencies.


Push For Revival Of SR-71s Gets Congressional Support

May 12, 1999

Los Angeles Daily News

By Jim Skeen, Daily News Staff Writer

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE--Ten members of Congress are seeking to return to duty the SR-71 Blackbird spy planes, saying the high-flying, triple-supersonic jet would fill a ''gaping hole'' in the nation's intelligence capability at a bargain price. The congressional supporters of the SR-71, which include Rep. Howard P. ''Buck'' McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, asked the House Appropriations Committee to restore funding for the program, without specifying an amount.

President Clinton vetoed $39 million for the SR-71 program in late 1997. ''We are optimistic we will get the funding through the defense appropriations bill,'' McKeon spokesman David Foy said. ''This is certainly a high priority for congressman McKeon. McKeon wants to keep the Clinton administration from turning the SR-71 into museum pieces.'' In an April 21 letter to Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., the Appropriations Committee chairman, the SR-71 supporters argued that the war in Kosovo, the vulnerability to missiles of U-2 spy planes and the cancellation of the robotic DarkStar spy plane point out the need for reactivating the Blackbird program. ''We may shortly be moving toward ground forces in Kosovo. We are aware that our intelligence collection system is stressed,'' the congressmen wrote. ''The SR-71's revival would fill a gaping hole in our intelligence architecture for a bargain price.''The Air Force is opposed to bringing the SR-71 back, stating its reconnaissance needs can be met with existing satellite technology and planned unmanned spy planes. Put into service in the 1960s, the SR-71 remains the fastest operational jet in the world. Needle-nosed and jet black, incorporating an early version of stealth technology, the SR-71 is capable of flying at speeds of more than 2,100 mph and can reach altitudes of more than 85,000 feet. With high-tech cameras and other top-secret reconnaissance gear, the airplanes are capable of surveying 100,000 square miles in an hour. The Air Force retired the aging planes in late 1989, citing limited financial resources and the development of other reconnaissance systems, such as unmanned drones and satellites. Spurred by accounts of field commanders not receiving the intelligence they needed during the Persian Gulf War, congress voted to restore the program. After a refurbishing and modification program by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works in Palmdale, two SR-71s were declared ready for spy missions on Jan. 1, 1997. In October 1997, Clinton put the program back into retirement with a line-item veto that struck down the funding for Blackbird operations.


November 23, 1998:

My latest intel is that the B model is to undergo its planned Phase inspection and then go into flyable storage for a year or so. I do not know if it'll be flown on a Functional Check Flight when it comes out of Phase before going into flyable storage. Their (NASA's) A model will have the LASRE equipment removed and will be flown at speed twice and then also go into flyable storage for roughly the same period. This is more or less the gap they thought was going to happen in 1998. There is work for the SR, but not immediately, so that's why they're being stored.

NASA still wants two more SRs, I don't know if USAF has made any decision on which two to let them have.

#968 was the SR that was going to next be returned to operational status and had already been moved in preparation for work to start when Billy Jeff vetoed the program. Since now it'll never fly again, it's been moved out of the hangar where it was being stored until disposition instructions are handed down.

No word on where the SRs that don't go to NASA will end up. There is still talk that one may go to a museum in Alaska, but nothing official. If that happens, it would be more practical (and less expensive) to fly it there, provided 967 and 971 aren't allowed to deteriorate to the point where that is no longer feasible. The final USAF engine runs for both of them were around Nov. 10.

Editor's note: Info taken from Skunk-Works Digest and written by Art.


November 18, 1998:

Presently we have mounted a scale model of the AeroSpike ( X33 access to space vehicle engine ) rocket engine on the top of the SR71. This project is now cancelled. The hot firing has been delayed for a very long time, and was impacting the X-33 flight schedule. Lockheed feels confident that the X-33 can safely fly without the data that would have been provided by the Linear Aerospike SR-71 Experiment (LASRE). NASA 844 has been the only flying SR-71A since the Air Force Blackbirds stopped operating. The SR-71B is in storage, drained of fuel, and missing some parts. There is no funding at NASA Dryden to fly the SR-71 in FY99. There are some projects in the works for 2000, but what will happen in the meantime? Will we still have anyone qualified to fly and maintain a Blackbird by then?

Peter Merlin NASA Dryden History Office


SR-71 Permanently Deactivated

This webpage will be maintained by the "SR-71 Blackbirds" website as an archive document (in it's entirety), testament to the efforts of those involved to keep the "Blackbird" flying. Thank you for writing your Congressmen and Senators. The funding was not approved by Congress in 1998. Read on.....

Congressional Results:

October 17, 1998


I just received the word from Congressional staffers. THE FAT LADY HAS SUNG!!!!!! And it's not a pretty sight. In fact, I'm sure she'll be singing away for quite some time to Gen Ryan's heart's content. He has won the battle of testerone with Congress. - My sources have had a hard time tracking this since Monday. Congress wanted to leave last Friday to get home for reelections. In the heat of battle to get a Budget out this week that the President would sign, things worked a little differently. Only the top appropriators sat down with the wish list of 100+ items they wanted in the DOD supplemental. The list itelf was close controlled but we were on it. They worked side by side with Billery's folks and negotiated real-time on the give and take. The word going in was that nothing that was contentious with the Billery crowd would make it unless there were big tradeoffs. Unfortunately we were not worth the fight. We wouldn't make any good political headlines that Joe SixPack would salivate over and no one Congressional district makes any big bucks over our existence. The negotiations were completed yesterday (Thurs) but today it was hard to find out what was in the $9B+ supplemental. Since that was $3B more than they were aiming for, we had hopes. Five staffers that I know of spent the day trying to find out if we were in it. The interesting thing is that the folks involved did not want to even discuss it with the Congressmen who were supporting us. After a day of research and prying, they found out - the SR-71 program is not even mentioned anywhere. As John McCain himself publicized, "there are many unessential items in that bill". Pork barrel politics is alive and well. - Yesterday marked a year since the closedown. So, for many of us, it's somewhat anti-climatic. Our faithful staffers have asked me to help write some language to protect the assets so the issue can be worked again next year. But at the same time, they admit it will be an uphill battle. (They just don't want to give up either). The Blackbird was needed but was retired in 1990 amongst a plethora of lies by the AF. She was resurrected by Congress in 95, closed down by the AF in 97, brought back by Congress in 98, then closed down two weeks later by Billery (with AF help) who was overruled by the Supreme Court 9 months later, and now dropped by Congress in 99. In spite of all the turmoil and and AF obstruction throughout the entire time, we did good. Among other things, we enhanced the TEOCS and ASARS, added a data link, a clip-in-kit, a zipper, an E-O camera, a universal power cart, and brought the ECM up to meet "all" the current threat parameters (no other system has that). And, the aircraft never flew better...You can be proud. - The sad thing is this country will never know what it lost. We know the SR-71 is needed - now more than ever. In the last year alone there have been several unresolved crises that could have been satisfied with the Blackbird. You are all aware of them. How many more will follow in this ever increasingly volatile world? The criminal thing is how many wrong decisions will be made, unnecessary piles of money spent, or American lives lost without the best intelligence at hand? The worse thing, of course, will be the dismantling again of an paralleled, supreme and dedicated work force and the fact that we can't continue our day to day relationships. But we will always be close in the bond. Our fold never loses anyone - it just adds new members. Our camaraderie is indestructible! - What's next? We know what to do, how to do it, how long it wil take, and how much it will cost with respect to the final closedown. The unknown is how much "expertise" the Pentagon will give us in that task. After their victory parties in the Pentagon, we'll hear from them.. More to follow, I'm sure...a lot more. - Actually there is some good news. I have been made privy to the SECRET AF plan for the future and they have the force structure well thought out after all. The future Air Force will consist of F-22s, A-22s, C-22s, B-22s, T-22s, RF-22s, U-22s, SR-22s, etc. What a dream fleet for us loggies. All parts will be interchangeable. Actually, the F-22 is quite a machine. We get to watch it everyday since they are next door to us here. However, just "one" production copy would fund us for 4.4 years. And we are going to purchase hundreds.... - Well, it's 1700 on a Friday and we are going to the club and lift a drink to the "Ladies" (967 and 971). I suggest you all do the same. During the upcoming ordeal, I look forward to toasting one with all of you at some time or another. If not, there's always the reunion in June. Thanks for all you have done. We did our best with all your letters, phone calls and e-mails to Congress. Sometimes you just can't fight City Hall - but you should always try when you know you are right.

From Headquarters USAF Washington D.C.

Friday 30 Oct 98






End of Message


Please do not write your congressmen or representatives. The remainder of this webpage is for archive and informational purposes only.

September 17, 1998

America is about to lose the most sophisticated and reliable spy plane ever built. The SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft has proven itself and has provided photo intelligence to United States Presidents and members of Congress for over 30 years. Even with today's technology, the United States does not have a system as reliable as the SR-71 in terms of launch capabilities and real time imagery particularly during times of International Crisis. The author of this webpage encourages all visitors to write their Congressmen and Senators. Funding is immediately needed. In terms of US National Security, we need to restore the two operational SR-71's to the Air Force inventory and place them back on active duty. You can Help! This webpage will provide you with the latest SR-71 news and requests for Congressional Support to provide the funding. We have little time to prevent the destruction of the remaining serviceable Blackbirds. Congress will vote on funding shortly. Sample Form letters are available on this webpage, so you can send them on to you elected officials in Washington D.C. Please refer to HR4424 in your correspondence. If you don't know who your congressman or senator is for your state/district you can use the Congress.Org link below and find out who they are by entering your Zip code. E-Mail your elected Congressman or Senator with your thoughts on this matter by visiting the link below: (link removed)


The Blackbird in Jeopardy

The SR-71 program will cease to exist unless Congress appropriates funds and authorizes the program for FY1999. The two operationally-ready airplanes are sitting at Edwards Air Force Base, California, in essentially flyable-storage condition. They have been in this state since last October, when, due to pressure from the Air Force, the program was Line-Item Vetoed by President Clinton. Although, in late June, the Line Item Veto was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the Air Force has refused to allow the planes to be returned to operational status. In fact, the Air Force has done everything possible to see that it never happens. The SR-71 is the only vetoed program that has not been restored. It will take about two weeks to bring the two SR-71s back to full operational status. Program assets and manpower are somewhat dispersed, but not irretrievably. Air Force Chief of Staff, General Ryan, will request that the “vetoed funds” (for the SR-71) be reprogrammed to Air Force operations and maintenance accounts. Also, General Ryan has or intends to sign SR-71 program termination papers. If not included in the FY1999 budget, or in supplemental legislation, the two operational SR-71s will be “given” to museums in Alaska and Texas, with the wings of a least one severed for transportation purposes. This will not only end the SR-71 program, but it will also finalize a hole in our reconnaissance capability that cannot be filled by satellites or by other aircraft.

The current status of Legislation regarding the SR-71 is constantly in flux as supporters work the issue. House Bill HR-4424 has been introduced to fund the SR-71 program for FY1999; other legislation is also in progress. The situation in Washington is terribly affected by White House problems. Changes regarding the status of the SR-71 and individuals to contact will be posted as they become available.


HR4424, introduced by Congressman Buck McKeon of California, would make available $30 million for FY1999. This money, actually unspent 1998 money, is the same $30 million appropriated for the SR-71 in the FY1998 budget. It was unused because of the Line Item Veto and Air Force resistance, and is intended for operation and maintenance purposes. $9 million, for research and development (R&D) improvements is available from previous budgets.



Members of Congress and Committees: Web pages of individual members can be found by accessing The Washington Post site at:, from which you can select individual members or the membership of various committees. The following listed individuals are the most important to contact right now. Also, contacting members of the Appropriations and National Security committees (see listing below of SR-71 Congressional Supporters), in addition to your own senators and congressman, will certainly help. Although sample letters follows, more impact will be achieved if you alter the content of these or compose your own from the background material that follows:

The President: E-mail only:

The Senate: The following senators spearheaded the fight for the SR-71 in the past.

Senator Robert Byrd: E-mail: Senator Robert Byrd FAX: 1-202-228-0002

Senator John Glenn: E-mail: Senator John Glenn FAX: 1-202-224-7983

The House: The following congressmen:

Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich: E-mail: FAX: 1-202-225-4656

House Minority Leader, Richard Gephardt: E-mail: FAX: 1-202-225-7452

Chairman of House Appropriation Committee, Bob Livingston:E-mail: Rep Bob Livingston

FAX: 1-202-225-0739

Chairman of House National Security Committee, Floyd Spence: E-mail: none currently; FAX: 1-202-225-2455


Congressional Supporters

The following congressmen are SR-71 supporters. A message to them will let them know that we acknowledge and appreciate their efforts toward keeping the SR-71 program alive.

Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich: E-mail:; FAX: 1-202-225-4656

Chairman of House Special Select Committee on Intelligence, Porter Goss: E-mail:; FAX: 1-202--225-6820

Member of House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Dennis Hastert: E-mail:; FAX: 1-202-225-0697

Member of House Appropriations Committee, Jerry Lewis E-mail: None currently; WWW:; FAX: 1-202-225-6498

Member of House National Security Committee, Howard (Buck) McKeon: (Sponsored HR-4424) E-mail:; FAX: 1-202-226-0683

Vice Chairman of House National Security Committee, Bob Stump: (Cosponsor of HR-4424) E-mail: None currently; FAX 1-202-225-6328

Member of House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Mark Souder: E-mail; FAX: 1-202-225-3479

Chairman of National Security Subcommittee of House Appropriations Committee, C.W. (Bill) Young: E-mail: None currently; FAX: 1-202-225-9764



The President:

Dear President Clinton:

The nation is about to lose an extremely valuable asset -- the SR-71 Reconnaissance Aircraft. Although you Line-Item Vetoed this program in the FY1998 budget, you no doubt did so because of misleading information provided to you by the Department of Defense (the Air Force). The SR-71 is neither obsolete nor is there a substitute for it. No other reconnaissance platform, satellite or aircraft can accomplish what the SR-71 can. It has supplied, and can continue to provide you, the Congress, the intelligence community, and the Army and Navy with intelligence that cannot be obtained by any other means. Mr. President, you need this aircraft. The Nation needs this aircraft. Do all you can to insure the SR-71 Reconnaissance Program survives.


Senators Byrd and Glenn:

The Honorable (Senator’s Name) Date

Ref: HR4424 (Funding for SR-71 Reconnaissance Aircraft for FY1999)

Dear Senator (Name):

The SR-71 Reconnaissance Program will be trashed unless you use the power of your office to save it. In the past, you realized our nation’s reconnaissance capability was diminished without it, and you spearheaded the movement to reactive several SR-71s. Unless the SR-71 is included in the FY1999 budget, the moneys that have been spent to reactivate the airplanes and bring them fully up to date will have been wasted. Worse, instead of being available for reconnaissance that only they can perform, the two operational aircraft will be placed on static display, like dinosaurs, in museums. How wasteful, how disgraceful! Do all you can to insure the SR-71 Reconnaissance Program survives.


Name Address Phone E-mail address


Your Congressmen:

The Honorable (Congressman’s Name) Date

Ref: HR4424 (Funding for SR-71 Reconnaissance Aircraft for FY1999)

Dear Congressman (Name):

I am writing to request your support for the SR-71 and the referenced bill. Unless the program is authorized and appropriated in the FY1999 budget, an important national asset will be lost forever. The SR-71 fills a hole, a big hole, in our nation’s reconnaissance capability. SR-71 sensors have day/night, all-weather capability. The SR-71 can supply reconnaissance in situations and ways that other aircraft and satellites are incapable of providing. It is the only reconnaissance platform that can penetrate hostile territory, use an unpredictable flight path, perform wide-area surveillance and survive. It has done this countless times, during over 3,500 operational missions, without ever being damaged or shot down by hostile action. The SR-71, in a single mission, can collect intelligence on all of Iraq, effectively providing a snapshot of Iraq’s assets. The U-2 cannot do this, nor can satellites. Program costs are modest compared to reconnaissance and military expenditures. If not budgeted, the two operationally-ready airplanes will become static museum displays. What a wasteful, disgraceful use of machines that can provide the eyes this nation needs in an ever-increasingly dangerous world. Is it prudent, intelligent, wise to allow this to happen? I don’t think so. Congressman (Name), I hope you agree and will do your best to ensure continuation of the SR-71 program, so our nation can have intelligence that only the SR-71 can provide.


Name, Address, Phone, E-mail address


Congressional Supporters

The Honorable (Congressman’s Name); Date

Ref: Support of SR-71 Reconnaissance Program

Dear Congressman (Name):

I too am a supporter of the SR-71 program, not because the SR-71 is a fantastic airplane and a superb and unique reconnaissance platform, which it is, but because it is the only platform that can fill what is otherwise a hole in our nation’s reconnaissance capability. Your work toward ensuring that the SR-71 program will continue in 1999 is vital to our country’s ability to be able to function in an increasingly dangerous world. Thank you for your efforts.


Name, Address, Phone, E-mail address



Reconnaissance Shortfall: After our cruise missile attacks on terrorist bases in Afghanistan last month, there was a problem. Bomb damage assessment (BDA) on the targets was not available due to “limitations of our (the U.S.) resources in providing information.” The first reason for lack of BDA was that it was nighttime in the region; later, it was because of weather. To date the only BDA we have is some low-resolution satellite photos, and those were obtained days after the attack. In other words, for days we were blind as bats, without knowledge of what damage our missiles had done. Even then, the results were hardly impressive. Fortunately, in this instance, the delay in obtaining intelligence is not that critical. In another scenario, such a delay could prove catastrophic. The SR-71 has a long history of delivering up-to-date intelligence data when needed, not days later.

The SR-71 has been purposely set aside, purposely prevented from being used. Timely and accurate intelligence is of the utmost importance. It affects our nation’s international and military policies, decisions and activities. Without it, we are blind. Besides delayed and poor BDA on the Afghanistan targets, the following are some of the recent reconnaissance debacles: Lack of warning regarding North Korea’s missile launch over Japan o Lack of warning regarding India’s nuclear tests o Inability to survey Iraq because of Sadam’s surface-to-air missiles (U-2 vulnerability) The shortfall, the hole in our reconnaissance capability, can readily be filled by the SR-71. The aircraft can provide, on short notice, on-the-spot intelligence coverage anywhere in the world, at any time -- that’s the good news. The bad news -- this proven reconnaissance system will be lost forever if it is not authorized and appropriated in the FY 1999 budget, for the Air Force intends to turn the two operational vehicles into static museum displays.

What is the SR-71?: The SR-71 Blackbird is specifically designed to survive over hostile territory. It flies over 15 miles high, at a cruise speed over three times the speed of sound. Although built during the 1960s, the airplane is not old in any sense. Its structure is stronger now then when built, due to reannealing during high-speed flight. The aircraft’s speed and altitude capabilities, together with its electronic systems, make it virtually invulnerable from attack by air-to-air and ground-to-air missiles. The proof -- in its 30-year history, including over 3,500 operational missions, no SR-71 was ever damaged or shot down by hostile action. The aircraft’s up-to-date sensor systems permit all-weather, day and night operations, with the capability of being able to transmit collected data to processing stations during flight, reducing data recovery time. Until 1990, when the Air Force succeeded in having the airplane taken out of operation, the SR-71 acquired vital intelligence on virtually every major politically and militarily important area of crisis that developed in the world.

Why do we need the SR-71?: We need the SR-71 because, without it, our reconnaissance capability is greatly diminished; not only reconnaissance as in the instances noted above, but also for battle situations like those in the Gulf War. There are two basic types of reconnaissance systems; aircraft and satellites. Only one airborne vehicle can operate over hostile territory with impunity -- the SR-71. Only one reconnaissance vehicle, airborne or satellite, can provide synoptic coverage -- the SR-71. Synoptic coverage is the collection of data on a very large target area during a single flight. For example, the SR-71, in a single mission, can collect intelligence on all of Iraq, effectively providing a snapshot of Iraq’s assets at one point in time. Satellites must make many passes to accomplish the same coverage, with considerable time lapse between each pass.

It is argued that satellites can replace the SR-71: They cannot. Satellites collect considerable data on an ongoing basis, but they have many problems. They are vulnerable to launch delays and disasters, and to irreparable malfunctions in orbit. (Last month, a costly intelligence satellite was destroyed during launch.) Changing orbits, to change areas of coverage, consumes limited on-board fuel and can take days to accomplish. Satellite orbits are predictable and satellites must make many passes to cover the same area that the SR-71 can cover in one flight. These limitations permit those targeted to cover up or move assets they do not want seen. Finally, satellite systems are expensive to design, build, put into orbit, monitor and, because of their finite life span, replace.

What can the SR-71 do? The SR-71 can fly within hours of notification Its flight path can, if necessary, be changed in a short time. There is no advance warning of its coming. Flying at cruise speed and altitude, it moves along a flight path unknown to those being surveyed. It collects data and is gone before assets on the ground can be moved or hidden, before those surveyed realize what happened; that is, until they feel the punch of the plane’s sonic boom. The SR-71 is the only reconnaissance platform that can penetrate hostile territory along an unpredictable flight path, accomplish wide-area synoptic coverage and survive. Very simply, the SR-71 can collect intelligence data that no other reconnaissance system can, intelligence data that, as we have seen, is otherwise unobtainable. Do we really want to put this unique asset in museums?

Why is the SR-71 not flying?: In 1989, in spite of its capability and history of collecting valuable intelligence, the Air Force succeeded in having the SR-71 removed from the 1990 budget. They deceived Congress regarding the plane’s capabilities and operating costs. They, as then Chief of Staff of the Air Force Larry Welch stated, wanted SR-71 money for planes that “dropped bombs and shot bullets," not reconnaissance planes that provided intelligence for other agencies but did little for them. As a consequence in 1990, the SR-71 was decommissioned. All aircraft, except six purposely set aside by Congress for possible future use, were sent to or made available to museums. The set-aside aircraft consisted of five reconnaissance planes (SR-71As) and one trainer. The trainer and two SR-71As were loaned to NASA for high-speed research. By 1994, Congress had realized that there was a continuing hole in our reconnaissance capability and ordered reactivation of three reconnaissance SR-71As. The Air Force reactivated two. The planes were made fully operational, with up-to-date reconnaissance capability. However, in spite of continued requests by various services and agencies for the plane, the Air Force ensured that it would not be used for any operational mission, with one exception. In that particular instance, the SR-71 was permitted to search for the wreckage of the Air Force A10 aircraft that crashed in Colorado in the winter. Of all the reconnaissance platforms used to try to determine the location of the crash, only the SR-71 was successful. Air Force top brass are committed to making sure that the SR-71 will not fly operationally again; so far, they have succeeded. Following their pressure to Line-Item Veto the SR-71 in the 1998 budget, the Air Force has kept the plane grounded, in spite of the Line Item Veto being found unconstitutional. Remarkably, the SR-71 is the only vetoed program not restored. It must be emphasized that statements regarding actions taken by the Air Force in no way reflect the professionalism of the Air Force organization and the majority of its members. However, Air Force leadership has had an ongoing vendetta against the airplane and has tried on numerous occasions to drive a stake in its heart. This situation cannot be ignored nor overlooked. It is a fact and it must be addressed accordingly.

Conclusion: We need the ability to obtain intelligence today as much as, if not more so, than during the Cold War. In that period, we had a defined adversary. Today, our possible adversaries are more numerous, more amorphous. Today, we face the following threats: hostile and belligerent Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Korea, an economically crumbling Russia with thousands of nuclear-armed missiles, nuclear and missile-intent India and Pakistan, and burgeoning terrorist groups around the world, just to name a few. A mix of satellite and airborne reconnaissance systems is required to provide intelligence of all kinds. Without the SR-71, we are partially blind. The SR-71 is paid for, its operating costs are modest and its performance in providing vital intelligence is on record and is legendary. Is it sensible, prudent, intelligent to let this valuable reconnaissance asset slip away? Will its future be determined by Congress or by the Air Force?


"Another View"

We are urging you to contact your Congressman ASAP if anything is going to happen to save the SR-71. If something isn't done by 30 September 1998, it's all over. In reality the word needs to get to the Hill in the next week to 10 days. The fight for the return of the SR has shifted to the House. Sen Steven's has told Sen Byrd that he's not going to do anything on the SR this year. Congressman Buck McKeon (R-25-CA) is leading the effort. He proposed legislation to move the $30 million O&M funds (appropriated in FY98 and lost to the line item veto) to FY99 funding. Nine other congressmen signed on to a letter to the DoD Comptroller supporting the continued funding for the SR-71. They included Duncan Hunter, Norm Dicks and Jerry Lewis. DoD's response to the letter is as expected citing the March retirement of the SR and the lack of funds in a declining defense budget. We need the appropriations committee support. Without them, it's over. Don't delay. Email works. Send your message to Congressman McKeon ( and Congressman Lewis (E-Mail-None Currently...FAX: 1-202-225-6498. It probably wouldn't hurt to email Senator Byrd (E-Mail: Senator Byrd) and Senator Stevens (E-Mail: Senator Stevens) in the likely case we get to conference on this issue.

SUMMARY -- The tools required for timely intel were taken away by those ignorant about it. One of the most important things combat forces need is timely intel. The best trained, best equipped troops in the world deserve timely reconnaissance to determine an enemy's status, capability and intentions. Unfortunately, the people ensconced inside the beltway don't realize this.

The U.S. is on the verge of permanently losing one of its most capable, effective and economic assets: the SR-71. In 1989, Congress shut down the SR-71 program. They manipulated figures to make the system look far more expensive than it was. They understated its capability and implied that there was an "other system" to take over the mission. Recon, except for pre and post air strike assessment, had never been that high a priority for the Air Force and they wanted to get the money spent on the SR for other pet projects. In 1990, the SR-71 was retired from Air Force service. Within months, this was proven a big mistake. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Gen. Schwarzkopf specifically asked for the SR-71 because of its capability and survivability. Lockheed responded that they could bring back the SR within three weeks. The information was never forwarded and Gen Schwarzkopf was told that the plane had been gone too long and wasn't available. Throughout the war the Commanders had problems with lack of timely intelligence, while the best asset in the world sat baking in the desert. When Congress let the AF abandon the SR, they directed that six of the 19 (including the trainer) available be maintained in case they needed to be brought back. This would have had a total cost of less than $160 thousand a year.

After Desert Storm tactical commanders stressed that they were not getting the timely intel they needed. It's also obvious that there was no "other system" waiting in the wings. In 1995 Congress ordered the reactivation of some of the existing SR-71s and appropriated $100 million to do it-- it actually only took $54 million (if they had spent the $160K per year it would have cost just a fraction of that). Since then, Congress has appropriated between $30 and $39 million annually as a total cost to maintain SR capability at the current level. AF/DoD are not happy about this. Even though $30 million wouldn't even buy of one of the new wonder-planes it wants, they still don't like it going to a 30-year old system, no matter how vitally needed it is. Several roadblocks have been placed in the program's way. These have included initial unavailability of support equipment, dragging of feet on personnel transfers, and leaking phony cost numbers to the press trying to portray the SR-71 as a boondoggle. They also set up a system whereby no matter how badly a tactical Commander needed an SR-71, it couldn't be asked for. All that could be forwarded was a requirement, and higher authority would decide what system would best meet the requirement. Not surprisingly, it was never to be the SR-71. The word went out that the SR was no good because no one asked for it, ignoring the fact that under the rules no one could ask for it. In 1997, DoD suddenly announced that Congress couldn't have actually meant for the system to be used, because although they restored it, they didn't specifically authorize it to be used in reconnaissance operations. Congress never authorized U-2s and JSTARs in Bosnia either. The SR-71 was stood down and its money was diverted to other more "popular"uses. Congress made it clear that they very much intended it to be used. It is the only system that can get information on North Korea, for example, Congress even added $9 million to install new capabilities. The opponents weren't done yet. The SR-71 program was quietly slipped into the list of FY98 items to be line item vetoed. While Clinton was out of the country (unavailable to those who wanted to defend the program), he signed the line-item veto that stripped the SR-71 funding. A few weeks later Saddam Hussein announced that he would shoot down U-2s flying over Iraq. In a case of Deja Vu, the JCS requested information on how fast the SR could be restored and deployed (10 days). The info was passed up to the highest level in AF, who briefed JCS that the SR was unnecessary because a "new" ECM system for the U-2 was imminent. This system has yet to materialize, so the U-2 only flies over Iraq by Hussein's sufferance. Even though the line item veto was overturned, the SR-71 isn't safe. AF made plans to render the aircraft unflyable and to cut up sensors that couldn't be used for the U-2 program. This would kill the program. Although the SR program will have its FY98 appropriation returned, that money can only be spent in FY98.

There's no point in regaining operational capability in 30 days if the following month the program is shut down again. It's all up to Congress. It's vital that you contact your representatives. If Congress votes the small amount of funding needed for FY99, our forces in the field can have an incredible, already paid for asset that can get the information they need- anywhere, anytime. If Congress doesn't act, then the power-players and face-savers win; the best tactical intelligence system we have will be gone, forever. We have to get the word out and to the right people, and we have to do it NOW!



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First Created: April 15, 1996 - Last Revised: March 29, 2004
Copyright © 1996 Leland R. Haynes     Email:

Copyrightcopyri.gif1996 Leland R. Haynes (MSgt USAF, Ret) All rights reserved. Original publish date April 15,1996. Revised March 29, 2004

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