Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union


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We made it to the secure door, where behind it was the narrow corridor and steep metal steps, ascending into the degree-view of the NAS Fallon control tower. I visited the tower many times before, but this was the first time it was preceded with suspenseful caution. The interior of the control tower was bathed in low lights emanating off the radar and control screens against a backdrop of the disappearing sun over the Sierra Nevada mountains. We waited…. The controllers were all business as they looked through binoculars to a closed hangar at the south end of the runway.

Once sufficiently dark enough to evade Soviet satellites, the controller subtly relayed clearance. Normally, the tarmac was full of lights and the skies were buzzing with military aircraft, but this night, the airspace and tarmac were eerily tranquil. At the hangar, the lights were off, but there was enough twilight to see the massive doors open.

A tow vehicle pulled forth the pointed, sleek nose of an SR Blackbird. The long arrow-shaped exterior, massive engines, and angled stabilizers were slowly revealed. The black titanium-composite skin seemed to absorb any remanence of the remaining light. The blackbird was positioned at the furthest end of the runway—no doubt to give it every inch of ground.

There was no other clearance given by the tower. The blackbird owned the runway with impunity. The SR roared to life. It was clear that the mission was to get airborne and clear of any surveillance as fast as possible. The pilot rotated off the runway and nosed up ever steeper as the blackbird accelerated, like a rocket, as the blue hue of its afterburners dissolved against the fading twilight in a matter of seconds. Afterward, I wanted to learn everything I could about the SR, but little information was available to the public.

It would be a decade before I saw another blackbird in action as one descended out of the sky for a practice approach to NAS China Lake, California, only to pull up, near vertical, and climb out with full afterburners.

SR-71 A-12 U-2 Spy Planes: 50-year Cold War Commemoration

This was in the afternoon in the mids for everyone to see, and by then the blackbird was well-known and coming into its final chapter of service. Since the advent of human flight, there have been incredible engineering milestones that vastly accelerated the aerospace industry—with the SR Blackbird occupying a prominent place in history.

What made the SR so special was how incredibly advanced all facets of its engineering was the time. It was first envisioned over 60 years ago to exceed 80, feet in altitude and fly at speeds greater than Mach 3. Eisenhower was still president when in , Lockheed was approached by the Central Intelligence Agency to develop a spy plane that was nearly undetectable—and if it were to be detectable—it could still outrun any air defense system in the world.

Think about this. Forty years prior, the U. Originally intended for the CIA, the government wanted a high altitude, global-range reconnaissance jet that was fast enough to make an enemy surface-to-air missile look like a bottle rocket in comparison. Preceded by the highly successful U2 reconnaissance program, military leaders knew it was only a matter of time when enemy forces might be able to shoot down the slower spy plane. The U. So secretive was the program, it first flew at Groom Lake at Area 51, and became the origins of many UFO sightings around the desert southwest.

Skunk Works. Once an isolated area north of Los Angeles; Skunk Works was home to some of the leading minds and engineers in aerospace. Having produced the U2 spy plane in secrecy, Skunk Works went on to create the SR program essentially from scratch.


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Each of the iterations in technology and testing informed next-generation of record-breaking aircraft including the F Nighthawk, F Raptor, and the F Lightning. In the case of the SR, the engineers were tasked with designing a new aircraft without the benefits of a primary predecessor aircraft.

To build a reconnaissance vehicle that could exceed Mach 3, engineers were essentially starting at the drawing board. They needed to develop a heat-resistant skin to protect from the intense atmospheric friction that would burn up any other plane. And the shape of the aircraft needed to have a low cross-section profile to limit detection by enemy radar. The fraternity of blackbird pilots began with a small group of test pilots.

As the SR program expanded, highly rated USAF pilots were selected for training and assessment by senior fellow pilots. Just because someone was invited into the program, passing the grueling flight assessments was equaled by the rigorous interpersonal reviews of senior officers. To find out more or to opt-out, please read our Cookie Policy.

Lockheed Sr 71 Blackbird.

In addition, please read our Privacy Policy , which has also been updated and became effective May 23rd, The desert base, which is entirely off-limits to civilians, has long been at the center of a conspiracy among alien fans and ufologists — people who hunt for UFOs. But those who arrive hoping to find parked flying saucers and green alien bodies laid out on cold metal tables will surely be disappointed, for two reasons. Experts say it likely remains an area for the Air Force and US spy agencies to develop the next generation of aircraft and other weapons of war.

But the lack of information about what actually goes on at Area 51 has allowed the many rumors and myths about the site to flourish. There is very little there, not much more than desert far away from modern conveniences like cell reception. That is by design: In , President Dwight Eisenhower asked for a secret location in which to start a high-altitude reconnaissance program.

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Revealed: How Area 51 Hid Secret Craft

They soon found what they were looking for. The first is the U-2 spy plane , which helped the US keep an eye on the growing nuclear threat out of the Soviet Union. The Soviets conducted their first atomic bomb test in and started to intercept aircraft heading toward its borders in part to keep that program secret. In , the Air Force began looking for a plane that could fly so high it could avoid detection and anti-aircraft missiles, about 70, feet in the air, and travel long-enough distances — 3, miles or so — without needing to refuel.

The defense contractor Lockheed Martin designed and built one, the U-2, in just eight months. Such funds and presidential backing allowed engineers and others to work out many of the initial kinks. They would do so, turning the U-2 into one of the most important planes in US intelligence and military history.

'Area 51' exists, but no UFOs: CIA paper

But on May 1, , a U-2 plane was shot down over Soviet airspace. The pilot, Gary Powers, and plane were both recovered, forcing the US to admit it was spying. That eventually led to the development of the SR Blackbird , which began flight testing on December 22, It was around that time that the testing area for these aircraft became known as Area More hangars, runways, housing units, and other facilities were installed in order to keep a burgeoning, secret spy-plane program running.

But because the US government was making aircraft for the express purpose of beating the Soviet Union and others technologically, secrecy was of the utmost importance. It was the Cold War, after all. Here are just a couple of examples of what they did: Employees mostly used planes to travel in and out of the facility. According to the CIA , components used to create the U-2 would be disassembled, placed on a plane, and then reassembled on-site at Area The CIA also encouraged the myth that UFOs were flying around Area 51 because it helped obfuscate what was really going on: the testing of odd-looking, high-flying, lightning-fast, never-before-seen aircraft.

The secrecy continues to this day, and what goes on there is jealously guarded. But some activities that happen there are known.

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Jacobsen told Vox that the US military will train foreign fighters there sometimes, allowing the troops to practice on rough, remote terrain well out of sight of the public. She also believes Area 51 remains a place for American armed forces to develop and test the next generation of aircraft and weapons of war. What kinds of things commonly get mistaken for UFOs? Stealth bombers and drones , military decoy flares , weapons tests , military training exercises , and weird classified air stuff. What does Area 51 have a lot of? All of the above.

But Lazar believed that the foreign air technology belonged to aliens and that Area 51 was entirely designed to capture, reverse-engineer, and study alien aircraft and aliens themselves. In , the government ultimately revealed the object to have been a nuclear surveillance balloon.

Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union
Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union
Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union
Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union
Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union
Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union
Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union
Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union
Blackbird: Cold War Spy Planes: U-2, SR-71 and Area 51: Secret War on the Soviet Union

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