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Carnac the Magnificent!
10-06-2001, 06:58 PM
Given hostilities in Afghanistan, it would seem the SR-71 Blackbird is needed more than ever. For the record, the SR-71 was a long-range strategic reconnaissance aircraft officially capable of flying at over Mach 3.2 and 85,000 feet, but insiders said it went faster and higher.

Why did the USAF retire the SR-71 Blackbird from service?
The SR-71 bests the U2 in every way, yet the U2 is still in action and the Blackbird is in mothballs. At the time of Blackbird's retirement, some experts said the Air Force was working on a hypersonic aircraft codenamed "Aurora," whose specs purportedly made the Blackbird look like it was glued to the tarmac. But Aurora never materialilzed and those in the know finally confessed that no such plane ever existed.

Please enlighten me.

waterj2
10-06-2001, 07:04 PM
The Blackbird was vastly more expensive than the U-2 (no longer called that, but I don't recall the new name) in every aspect of its operation. Most of what the Blackbird could accomplish can now be done with satellites.

The primary purpose of the Blackbird was to be able to fly over the USSR so fast and high that they couldn't do anything about it. Nowadays, that specific mission no longer exists.

Sam Stone
10-06-2001, 07:28 PM
The SR-71 doesn't best the U2 in 'every' way. For one thing, it's much more expensive to operate. Second, I don't believe it has the loiter capability of the U2.

Sure, it flies faster and higher. The only advantage that gets you is missile avoidance. For actual reconaissance, you'd be better off being lower and slower.

The U2 already flies higher than most SAM's can get to, and certainly it flies higher than any light SAM like the Stinger that Afghanistan has (the Stinger only has a maximum altitude of about 12,000 feet, whereas the U2 flies up around 70,000, if I recall correctly). They are very, very rarely shot down. They also fly higher than any of the main front-line fighters currently in the arsenal, except for perhaps the F-15e and the Mig-25 (Afghanistan only has a few Mig-21s and SU-20s, neither of which could reach a U2). They also have a small radar signature. So they are just fine for the job, and we don't need an SR-71. And satellites probably take as good or better pictures than the SR-71 could take anyway.

For higher-risk reconaissance, the U.S. relies heavily on unmanned drones like the Predator. They are relatively cheap, so the U.S. doesn't really mind if the odd one is shot down.

bernse
10-06-2001, 08:02 PM
Originally posted by waterj2
The primary purpose of the Blackbird was to be able to fly over the USSR so fast and high that they couldn't do anything about it

I don't think the Blackbird ever actually flew over the USSR. I think that was forbidden after the Powers incident.

Grok
10-06-2001, 08:10 PM
I think it's the money thing - the Blackbird is extremely expensive to operate.

It's probably true, as has been mentioned already in this thread, that the specific missions for the SR-71 largely don't exist anymore. However, I remember reading (I'll look for the cite...) that at the onset of the Gulf War, one of the first things General Schwartzkopft asked for was the Blackbird.

Last I heard, three Blackbirds were still being used by NASA as test platforms for various projects.

Reeder
10-06-2001, 08:14 PM
With the advent of superb sattelite photography neither plane is needed any more. The spy sattelites can be manuervered anywhere they want.

DPWhite
10-06-2001, 08:20 PM
I believe the military when they say the Blackbird is retired and that its replacement never existed. Not. The fact that both may be true is hardly cause to believe the military on something I would hope they are lying about. (And which it doesn't bother me if they are lying about, unlike other things which would bother me.)

scr4
10-06-2001, 10:58 PM
For higher-risk reconaissance, the U.S. relies heavily on unmanned drones like the Predator. They are relatively cheap, so the U.S. doesn't really mind if the odd one is shot down.

Out of curiosity, how cheap is cheap? (the cost of replacing a lost plane)

tomndebb
10-06-2001, 11:04 PM
With the advent of superb sattelite photography neither plane is needed any more. The spy sattelites can be manuervered anywhere they want.Schwarzkopf is not the only one who has challenged that idea. It was an idea that was echoed by a number of people in the military and the intelligence community after the Iraq war and again during the Kosovo intervention. As far as I know, the two that were returned to service in 1995 are still operational and did do Kosovo flyovers. The one thing that the SR-71 can do that a satellite cannot do is be over a particular target at the time you want it there. Satellites can take up to three days to be positioned perfectly--and then you get a shot every 81 minutes whether you need it or not.

The other thing that the SR-71 and the U-2 each do that a satellite cannot is return with genuine film. The digital stuff is truly wonderful, but we still do not have the resolution in digital technology that we can achieve with film. (Regarding Afghanistan, this merely argues for either the U-2 or SR-71 against satellites without arguing SR-71 over U-2. Cost is still cost.)

I had not heard that the two re-activated SR-71s had been retired again, but I won't insist that they are active.

tomndebb
10-06-2001, 11:13 PM
Out of curiosity, how cheap is cheap? (the cost of replacing a lost plane)

I seem to recall a cost in the $300,000 range, but I can't find my old link. According to RQ-1 Predator (http://af.mil/news/factsheets/RQ_1_Predator_Unmanned_Aerial.html), the "system" cost is $25m, but the system is defined:The RQ-1A/B Predator is a system, not just an aircraft. The fully operational system consists of four air vehicles (with sensors), a ground control station (GCS), a Predator primary satellite link communication suite and 55 people.

Sam Stone
10-06-2001, 11:19 PM
Reeder said:


With the advent of superb sattelite photography neither plane is needed any more. The spy sattelites can be manuervered anywhere they want.


That's not true at all. Satellites take time to be positioned, and manoevering them uses up reaction mass and is therefore pretty expensive. Low-Earth satellites also can't loiter, which means they can't maintain continous watch over things like troop movements. Basically, once an LEO satellite is in the right orbit, it can snap a few pictures on each pass, and then it has to wait for an hour and a half or something before it's over that spot again.

Plus, I wouldn't be surprised if the U2 could image things on the ground better than satellites can, but I'm not sure because that info is still classified. But there's a pretty big difference between being 13 miles up and being 150 miles up.

tomndebb
10-06-2001, 11:22 PM
According to the UAV Forum (http://uavforum.com/library/librarian.htm) (q.v.), I was off by a bit: they say the RQ-1 costs $3.3M apiece. (Of course, that is still substantially cheaper than a manned craft.)

DPWhite
10-06-2001, 11:28 PM
The first spy satellites did use film that was dropped over the ocean, a parachute deployed and an Orion caught it mid flight. If it fell in the water, a salt plug would dissolve in a short amount of time and sink it to prevent hostile capture.

Tranquilis
10-06-2001, 11:38 PM
Originally posted by DPWhite
I believe the military when they say the Blackbird is retired and that its replacement never existed. Not. The fact that both may be true is hardly cause to believe the military on something I would hope they are lying about. (And which it doesn't bother me if they are lying about, unlike other things which would bother me.) Believe them. On this at least. The military is pretty damn bad about keeping those kind of secrets. Even the F-117 was "blown" in a number of publications long before it's presence was admitted. The main reason they don't have replacement systems is manifold: The TR-1 (Formerly the U-2), satellites, the few remaining SR-71s, photo-reconnasnce F-111s, F-4s, J-STARS, UAVs, and other systems, can do the job quite well, and at lower cost than developing something that doesn't really need to be built, especially when we do need to develop systems that can exploit the intelligence: Weapons and weapons delivery systems.

DPWhite
10-06-2001, 11:47 PM
[/B][/QUOTE]Believe them. On this at least. The military is pretty damn bad about keeping those kind of secrets. Even the F-117 was "blown" in a number of publications long before it's presence was admitted. The main reason they don't have replacement systems is manifold: The TR-1 (Formerly the U-2), satellites, the few remaining SR-71s, photo-reconnasnce F-111s, F-4s, J-STARS, UAVs, and other systems, can do the job quite well, and at lower cost than developing something that doesn't really need to be built, especially when we do need to develop systems that can exploit the intelligence: Weapons and weapons delivery systems. [/B][/QUOTE]

Yes, I believe. There is no reason to have anyone come visit me.

Mr. Cynical
10-07-2001, 03:06 AM
Originally posted by Grok
Last I heard, three Blackbirds were still being used by NASA as test platforms for various projects.
At Edwards AFB, no less. Beautiful to see them flying. Of course, the last time I saw that familiar shape in the air was ten years ago.

Johnny L.A.
10-07-2001, 10:02 AM
Tranquilis beat me to it. I was going to say that the U-2 is now called the TR-1.

The satellite question was pretty well covered. On the one hand, they're very good. On the other hand, it's pretty hard to refuel them after you've been maneuvering them.

The biggest advantage of the SR-71 is that it can be put over virtually any place very quickly. But the important places are covered by sats, which can be over a spot more quickly than an SR-71; but they are somewhat predictable. The SR-71, however, requires a lot of resources. It needs a secure base with a long runway. They leak like seives on the ground. (Their titanium skin expands because of friction, so their tanks are sealed at operating speed.) They have to be refuelled immediately after takeoff. That means you nead tanker assets. They're mainenance-intensive.

Global Hawks fly very high, have a loiter capability greater than a TR-1, and can be positioned over any place. Just not as quickly as an SR-71. They don't require as complex an infrastructure as the Blackbird though, and can be launched from virtually anywhere. Plus there is no human inside of them to be killed or captured.

Dark Star was another concept. It was smaller than a Global Hawk, I think it was more stealthy, and it provided higher-resolution data. But it was dropped in favour of the Global Hank.

I think there may be situations where an SR-71 would be ideal, and in those cases it's too bad we don't still have them. (I'll bet NASA would be accommodating with theirs if the CIA or Air Force asked to use them though.) It's still... what? a 40-year-old design? Unlike the elderly B-52, we have other aircraft that can perform practically all of the same missions more cheaply and more efficiently.

MPSIMS: I was driving home from Edwards AFB one late afternoon. It was a dark day in the desert, with low black clouds and wind, and rain was threatening. As I drove westward on Ave. K, I saw an SR-71 flying low in the distance. He had taken off from Palmdale and had his burners on. The blue flame was as long as the airframe as it passed south-to-north and disappeared in the clouds.

I flew over Palmdale quite a bit when I lived in Lancaster and flew from Fox. It was neat to see the SR-71s sitting out on the ramp.

robby
10-07-2001, 11:17 AM
Originally posted by DPWhite The first spy satellites did use film that was dropped over the ocean, a parachute deployed and an Orion caught it mid flight. If it fell in the water, a salt plug would dissolve in a short amount of time and sink it to prevent hostile capture.

When I read this, I was curious as to how a film canister was supposed to be "dropped" from orbit. (I have heard this statement in the past as well.) However, if an object is released in orbit, it will simply remain in orbit, not drop down like an object released from an aircraft within the atmosphere.

I was able to answer my question here (http://vectorsite.tripod.com/taspy.html#m2), which has info about the "Corona Film-Return Satellite" program. As I suspected, the film canisters were not "dropped." They were deorbited by rockets.


The film was fed to a re-entry capsule that was to be ejected after the images had been obtained. The capsule, or "bucket" as it would eventually be known, included a thruster maneuvering system, a solid-fuel deorbiting rocket, a telemetry system and beacon to allow it to be tracked, a recovery parachute controlled by a timer system, and a battery to power its electronics.

The bucket's ablative external heat shield allowed it to survive the heat of re-entry. The bucket had a salt plug that would dissolve after about 24 hours in the water to ensure that the bucket would sink if it were not recovered in a timely fashion.

Once the parachute deployed, the capsule was to be snagged by a transport aircraft trailing a harness system. Originally, C-119 Boxcars were used, but were later replaced in the task by the versatile C-130 Hercules.

ElvisL1ves
10-07-2001, 11:22 AM
Originally posted by Johnny L.A.
They leak like seives on the ground. (Their titanium skin expands because of friction, so their tanks are sealed at operating speed.) They have to be refuelled immediately after takeoff. That means you nead tanker assets. They're mainenance-intensive.

Not to mention that they're also the only plane in the world that uses JP-7 fuel, not the military's usual JP-8 (USAF is retiring JP-4). So the special fuel supply has to be procured and loaded into tankers that are dedicated to the SR-71 mission. Mission capability therefore depends on the tankers as well as on the Blackbird - if it can fly but one of the tankers cannot, there's no mission.

The TR-1 has some differences from the original U-2 it was reworked from, such as the wing "canoe" tanks and a newer, more efficient engine. NASA has a few for high-altitude air sampling, as well.

The Blackbird does represent an amazing piece of technology, and it's one of the most beautiful planes ever made. But the arguments for keeping them in use seem to me to be about finding work for them to do, with their continued service being a given, rather than defining what intelligence-gathering needs will exist and looking for the best approach to filling those needs. If you take the latter approach, the answers are satellites and UAV's.

waterj2
10-07-2001, 03:04 PM
Even the F-117 was "blown" in a number of publications long before it's presence was admitted.
According to Skunk Works, by Ben Rich, director of Lockheed's Skunk Works program when it designed the F-117, it was first "blown" by Jimmy Carter himself to defend his decision to abandon the B-1 project, which Reagan made a campaign issue.

In any event, the government really couldn't hide the existence of a whole production run of aircraft without leaving some sort of paper trail that Jane's or a similar group would run across. And since there's really no need for a replacement for the SR-71, I see no reason to doubt the government on this one.

Popup
10-08-2001, 02:45 AM
Originally posted by Country Squire
For the record, the SR-71 was a long-range strategic reconnaissance aircraft officially capable of flying at over Mach 3.2 and 85,000 feet, but insiders said it went faster and higher.
Is that true?
Let's for the moment ignore any current conflicts, and look at the speed records. I thought that the only one to have acieved mach 3 was Gillette.
According to this site (http://hypertextbook.com/facts/AvivaLaurenti.shtml) the (airplane speed) record is still held by the SR-71:
... an SR-71 set two world records for its class: an absolute speed record of 2,193.167 miles per hour
If Mach1=741.4mph (as this site (http://shahrazad.bd.psu.edu/Baxter/classes/phys215/215sept081997.html) claims), that works out as Mach 2.96.

Beaten by a razor! :)

Santos L Halper
10-08-2001, 03:29 AM
The speed of sound isn't a fixed number. It varies base on various factors, especially altitude. Here's a site that can calculate it based on various factors: http://aero.stanford.edu/StdAtm.html

Eric

pulykamell
10-08-2001, 06:44 AM
The speed of sound at 35,000 - 60,000 feet is about 660 miles per hour. (Speed of sound is dependent on temperature. Hence, higher altitude=lower temp=slower sound.) Calculating, we get Mach 3.23 for the world record, which is consistent with County Squire's assertion.

ElvisL1ves
10-08-2001, 08:27 AM
In more comprehensible terms, the SR-71 the Smithsonian has set a record on its last flight by getting from Los Angeles to Washington in 64 minutes and 2 seconds.

Popup
10-08-2001, 08:55 AM
Originally posted by ElvisL1ves
In more comprehensible terms, the SR-71 the Smithsonian has set a record on its last flight by getting from Los Angeles to Washington in 64 minutes and 2 seconds.
OK, that's faster than my razor. Point taken. Hijack over.
Now, back to the actual specs, economics and politic considerations of the OP.

Enola Straight
10-08-2001, 01:24 PM
Country Squire, I thought "Aurora"...aka "Darkstar" was a real plane.

It would make sense: the SR-71 and the U-2 were both
designed in the 50s and tested in the 60s, the stealth bomber and stealth fighter designed in the 70s and tested in the 80s.

What are they designing and testing today?

The Aurora/Darkstar was supposed to fly at mach3-5, using a hupersonic version of the pulse jet, first used by the Germans in WW2 in their V-1 buzz-bombs. The fuel would be some combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid methane.

Also a form of external combustion technology would be used for propulsion.

Instead of fuel being burned in a combustion chamber and blown out the jet nozzle, raw fuel would simply be squirted through the rear of the plane; the supersonic shock-wave and the plane's fuselage becoming the rocket nozzle.

Whack-a-Mole
10-08-2001, 01:57 PM
Originally posted by Enola Straight
What are they designing and testing today?

The Aurora/Darkstar was supposed to fly at mach3-5, using a hupersonic version of the pulse jet, first used by the Germans in WW2 in their V-1 buzz-bombs. The fuel would be some combination of liquid hydrogen and liquid methane.

Also a form of external combustion technology would be used for propulsion.

I saw some show on TV that showed video of a vapor trail left by some kind of plane. No one saw the plane but the vapor trail was very unique. Instead of just a straight line of vapor there were 'balls' of vapor along the line akin to a string with knots tied along its length. The show could only speculate what made those but their experts said that they would expect a pulse jet to create such a thing. Obviously not proof of anything but interesting nonetheless. I don't know if it is real or not but it would I'd bet that they have something up their sleeve.

As an aside I didn't think making engines to move planes quickly was a problem. I thought the real problem lied in the heat generated by flying so fast. As Johnny L.A. mentioned the SR-71 leaked like crazy while on the ground till external heat from friction sealed up the tanks. Pulse jets/RAM Jets/SCRAM jets/etc., are all well and good but you still have major friction problems unless you fly near or in space (at which point you're probably better off with a cheaper satellite anyway).

ski
10-08-2001, 02:09 PM
Enola Straight - Aurora and Darkstar are most certainly NOT the same plane. But Darkstar IS most certainly a REAL plane, or rather, I guess, WAS a real plane (because the program's been canceled). They were testing it for a while when I was at Edwards AFB. It was a stealthy UAV with a high-aspect wing with a top speed on the order of 150 knots, not Mach 3+.

There used to be a large dark spot next to the runway where it crashed on takeoff. Too bad I missed that! We started calling Darkstar "Darkspot" or "Darksplat".

I have no information on the existence of Aurora.

tsunamisurfer
10-08-2001, 04:06 PM
I saw some show on TV that showed video of a vapor trail left by some kind of plane. No one saw the plane but the vapor trail was very unique.

There have been numerous reported sightings of futuristic aircraft that supposedly emitted a strange pulsing sound and traveled at incredible velocity.

One such sighting was from an oil rig on the North Sea sometime in the 1990s. Several workers claim to have seen something quite different from the SR-71/U2 and said it moved faster than they thought possible.

Johnny L.A.
10-08-2001, 04:27 PM
Darkstar IS most certainly a REAL plane, or rather, I guess, WAS a real plane (because the program's been canceled). They were testing it for a while when I was at Edwards AFB. It was a stealthy UAV with a high-aspect wing with a top speed on the order of 150 knots, not Mach 3+.
Information on Darkstar RQ-3A Tier III Minus (http://fas.org/irp/program/collect/darkstar.htm).

geepee
10-08-2001, 05:13 PM
hey a Mig25R can do over Mach 3, Eygpt used to use them to spy on Israel as it could out run any SAM system at the time

oh and the U-2 probably could be defeated by the S-300 russian SAM these days

robby
10-08-2001, 07:29 PM
Originally posted by geepee
hey a Mig25R can do over Mach 3, Eygpt used to use them to spy on Israel as it could out run any SAM system at the time

Cite, please?

(I've never heard that the MiG-25 could go that fast.)

Lumpy
10-08-2001, 07:49 PM
I heard that the MIG-25 can do Mach 3 once, after which it's engines are burnt out.

Johnny L.A.
10-08-2001, 07:50 PM
Cite, please?
I remember hearing about the MiG-25 when I was a kid, and distinctly remember hearing that it would do mach 3. But just to make sure, I entered the following into google: "mig-25" "foxbat" "performance" "mach". I didn't read the pages, but I could see from the search that maximum speeds quoted ranged from 2.35 to mach 3+.

From what I remember the MiG-25 was extremely fast, but very heavy and handled poorly compared to U.S. aircraft. It was designed to combat the B-70, which never saw production. I'd say it was a huge waste of money on the part of the U.S.S.R. Still, it was quite the bogeyman until a pilot defected with one to Japan.

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