Last updated: 19 November 2006
Second is the heat generated by the plane moving through the atmosphere, even titanium has it's limits, and the heat generated by the SR brings the fuselage to the brink. Just recently I found out that during a Lockheed Skunk Works study to see how much money and development it would take to get the SR to go faster than it's designed top speed 3.2- 3.5, the designers discovered (among other things) that the metal divider between the windshield was heating up so much above mach 3.5 that it was affecting the integrity of the windshield, and at that point they had stretched the glass technology to the max! So Mach 3.2 to a max of 3.5.
Now according to Richard Graham: "The design Mach number of the SR-71 is 3.2 Mach. When authorized by the Commander, speeds up to Mach 3.3 may be flown if the CIT limit of 427 degrees C. is not exceeded. I have heard of crews reaching 3.5 Mach inadvertently, but that is the absolute maximum I am aware of."
The SR doesn't fly quite that high, the highest altitude I've heard attributed to the SR was 100,00 ft (18.93 miles), all the Air Force and Lockheed admit to is above 80,000 ft. To get astronaut wings you have to fly at least 264,000 ft (50 miles). Which the SR (even though it's a fantastic aircraft) doesn't get close to that altitude!
Richard Graham contributes: The SR-71s engines require a sufficient quantity of air in order to operate. The maximum altitude limit is 85,000 feet unless a higher altitude is specifically authorized. Again, I have heard of crews inadvertently reaching 87,000 feet, but no higher.
There are lots of numbers floating around about how much it costs to fly the SR, I've heard figures over $100,000 an hour to fly the SR-71, and a $1,000,000 a picture. The figures are all over the place, it's especially hard, because you can figure it so many different ways....do you include Tanker support, flight proficiency ops (SR "B" model and T-38), and numerous other expenses. I like to figure it as what it actually costs to fly the airplane itself, no training, tanker support, etc. So with that said.....The numbers that I've been told by people that know is $38,000 per flying hour. The costs can be lower to a rock bottom price of $27,000 per hour if the annual flying time gets above 300 hours total. So the actual cost is probably somewhere in between 38 and 27 thousand an hour.
Well after the latest Wings episode "Spyplanes" on recently, some interesting errors! Well here goes....
Well not exactly empty, the SRs tanks hold 80,000 lbs. of fuel, the SR-71 usually takes off with 45,000 lbs. of fuel on board. Not what I call almost dry! The SR takes off with either 45,000 lbs., 55,000 lbs., or 65,000 lbs. of fuel. Almost all flights are refueled by KC-135Q's (now "T"), there are a few exceptions though... one was called the "Rocket Ride", which were flown from Kadena AB, Okinawa and then on to Northern Korea, on 65,000 lbs of fuel. The only SRs that launched with a full fuel load were the test flights from Palmdale, CA.
Quit flying U-2s...........The U-2, at this time is the backbone
of the Manned Aerial Reconnaissance program for the US. The U-2s first flight
was in the mid 50's and is still flying today out of many locations, watching
various "hot spots" throughout the world. And no the SR did not
replace the the U-2, they both perform unquie reconn missions. The U-2 can
loiter for hours over an area, while the SR can fly in and cover a large
fortified area, very quickly, immune to the dangers. In fact there is a
new variant to the already long list of variants, the U-2S model, with a
physically smaller size, more fuel efficient engine, the GE F118-GE-101.
All existing U-2 will be fitted with the F118 engine by 1999.
Where did the name "Dragon Lady"
for the U-2 come from?
I read a letter that Tony Bevacqua had sent to Airmen Magazine describing how the U-2 received it's name "Dragon Lady", here is the story......
Cozy Kline and his wife Jan were stationed at Laughlin AFB, TX, and we'll let them take over the story form here:
"Myself and my wife Jan designed in competition at Laughlin AFB the Squadron patch which had a dragon intwined around an astrolobe instrument from long ago. This was 1957 which we won. I chose the Dragon because that was the unclassified name used by Strategic Air Command for the formation of the first military squadron to fly the U-2. Someone in the Air Force came up with this code word. I flew the U-2 from 1957 to 1961 out of Laughlin AFB in the 4028th SRS."
Now we're still left in a quandry about where "Toward
the Unknown" slogan originated, but luckily for us, Cozy Kline again
fills in the blanks for us.
"I remembered at that time there was film made; "Toward the Unknown" about flying faster than the speed of sound in the Bell X-1, which played at the local Base Theater that we had seen. I thought this was a great saying for our Squadron Patch. We really were flying into unknown territory."
I'd like to thank these very nice folks for contributing to the "Myth and Fact" page:
Cozy and Jan Kline
And a special "Thank You" to Rich Graham