Book Review — SR-71

SR-71: The Complete Illustrated History of the Blackbird, The World’s Highest, Fastest Plane by Richard H. Graham is the history of America’s most mysterious aircraft. Colonel (ret) Richard Graham is the author of three books on the SR-71 Blackbird. He flew this aircraft for seven years and ended up with 756 hours in its cockpit.

When I was a kid the SR-71 had been flying for a few years. It was the model kit every kid wanted. It was the fastest and highest flying plane ever built. Its specs remained classified. There, however, was little doubt how fast it was; in 1981 it outran a North Korean ground to air missile. By that time my childhood illusions of the SR-71s maneuverability had long since been substituted for the practical. Still, it remained one of the coolest planes to ever fly.

Graham takes the reader on a heavily illustrated history of the remarkable aircraft. From its beginnings in Burbank and its stealthy road trip to Groom Lake for testing. There is something for everyone to learn including the SR-71’s piggyback drone and its initial role as an air-to-air missile carrying interceptor. Graham’s book is filled with first-person experiences from training through flight operations. Support necessities to overcome the hostile atmosphere where the SR-71 operated are included. The human body can’t breathe at the altitude where the plane performed its mission. The air is thin and very cold and yet the plane’s skin temperature was very hot. Reading through this book one sees how planning, preparation, and execution rivaled the manned space program. SR-71 pilots and astronauts had much in common with SR-71 pilots having the additional problem of mid-air refueling.

SR-71 is a richly illustrated history of the plane, the pilots, and all the supporting staff much of it told by those who worked the missions.  Official documents are also used in photos and diagrams.  This was an age of espionage where people put their lives on the line for information.  Although intelligence today may be better and safer with the use of satellites and drones it does lose that mystique.  During the Cold War years, we kids, talked about the SR-71 and to some extent the U2.  I doubt today that kids sit around and talk specs on reconnaissance satellites or imagine what its like to operate one.  This is a book of days gone by and is a tribute to the plane and people who risked it all for their country.  A timely read for this Veteran’s Day.

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