A National Treasure

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The Blackbird always showed us something new, each aircraft possessing its own unique personality. In time, we realized we were flying a national treasure, When we taxied out of our revetments for take-off, people took notice. Traffic congregated near the airfield fences, because everyone wanted to see, and hear the mighty SR-71. You could not be a part of this program, and not come to love the airplane. Slowly, she revealed her secrets to us, as we earned her trust.

One moonless night, while flying a routine training mission over the Pacific, I wondered what the sky would look like from 84,000 feet, if the cockpit lighting were dark. 

While heading home on a straight course, I slowly turned down all of the lighting, reducing the glare and revealing the night sky. Within seconds, I turned the lights back up, fearful that the jet would know, and somehow punish me. But my desire to see the sky, overruled my caution, I dimmed the lighting again. To my amazement, I saw a bright light outside my window. As my eyes adjusted to the view, I realized that the brilliance was the broad expanse of the Milky Way, now a gleaming stripe across the sky. Where dark spaces in the sky, had usually existed, there were now dense clusters, of sparkling stars. Shooting Stars, flashed across the canvas every
few seconds. It was like a fireworks display with no sound.

I knew I had to get my eyes back on the instruments, and reluctantly, I brought my attention back inside. To my surprise, with the cockpit lighting still off, I could see every gauge, lit by starlight. In the plane's mirrors, I could see the eerie shine of my gold spacesuit, incandescently illuminated, in a celestial glow. I stole one last glance out the window. 

Despite our speed, we seemed still before the heavens, humbled in the radiance of a much greater power. For those few moments, I felt a part of something far more significant, than anything we were doing in the plane. The sharp sound of Walt's voice on the radio, brought me back to the tasks at hand, as I prepared for our descent. 

The SR-71 was an expensive aircraft to operate. The most significant cost was tanker support, and in 1990, confronted with budget cutbacks, the Air Force retired the SR-71.
The SR-71 served six presidents, protecting America for a quarter of a century. Un-be-known to most of the country, the plane flew over North Vietnam , Red China , North Korea , the Middle East, South Africa , Cuba , Nicaragua , Iran , Libya, and the Falkland Islands. 

On a weekly basis, the SR-71, kept watch over every Soviet Nuclear Submarine, and Mobile Missile Site, and all of their troop movements. It was a key factor in winning the Cold War. I am proud to say, I flew about 500 hours in this aircraft. I knew her well. 

She gave way to no plane, proudly dragging her Sonic Boom through enemy backyards, with great impunity. She defeated every missile, outran every MiG, and always brought us home. In the first 100 years of manned flight, no aircraft was more remarkable? The Blackbird had outrun nearly 4,000 missiles, not once taking a scratch from enemy fire.

On her final flight, the Blackbird, destined for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, sped from Los Angeles to Washington in 64 Minutes, averaging 2,145 mph, and setting four speed records.

Dino Boito


Copyright Mike Wardley, 2010