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SR-71A Flight Manual
February 28, 2010 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Online SR-71A Flight Manual. Included in sr-71.org's excellent Blackbird Archive is a scanned copy of the actual "Dash-1" flight manual for the famous SR-71A reconnaissance plane.

Still the holder of numerous speed records, flying the SR-71A required far more concentration on aircraft systems and performance than for most operational aircraft. The now declassified (and hence, public domain) flight manual gives some idea of the complexity involved in flying this machine. For example, see the description of unlet unstarts, which were a relatively common occurrence.

The archive also contains a collection of photographs, diagrams, and other information about the SR-71, A-12, YF-12, and D-21.
posted by FishBike (65 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Thank you for your purchase of this fine Lockheed product! Your SR-71 has been designed for years of quality service. Before using your new device, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the contents of this package, including the quick start guide, product warranty card, ..."
posted by Rhomboid at 1:05 PM on February 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


Mach 3 here I come.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:14 PM on February 28, 2010


Growing up in Okinawa, I used to stop in awe ever time an SR-71 crossed the sky--an amazing sight, especially with the afterburners at dusk. Thanks for sharing!
posted by wanderingstan at 1:38 PM on February 28, 2010


What the Soviets would have given for this back in the day.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:50 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, one of the coolest thing about the SR-71:

Major portions of the upper and lower inboard wing skin of the SR-71 were corrugated, not smooth. The thermal expansion stresses of a smooth skin would have caused splitting or curling. By making the surface corrugated, the skin was allowed to expand vertically and horizontally without overstressing, which also increased longitudinal strength.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:54 PM on February 28, 2010


What the Soviets would have given for this back in the day.

The Soviets had their own version. It was called Firefox.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:04 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I have no idea if this SR-71 story is true, but it's still awesome: The King Of Speed
posted by sharkfu at 2:13 PM on February 28, 2010 [23 favorites]


There are some days when I feel like Metafilter has basically become the lint trap for every adolescent obsession I ever had. This is one of those days. My 12 year old seld is jumping up and down clapping his hands and basically freaking the fuck out. My (much) older self is basically going to ground him for life if he doesn't stop making such a big ruckus....
posted by Skygazer at 2:17 PM on February 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


Shit, I think I'm getting a big ass zit on my forehead....
posted by Skygazer at 2:19 PM on February 28, 2010


The fastest plane in the world was designed before most of us were born and is already obsolete. Boy I feel old.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:21 PM on February 28, 2010


The Soviets had their own version. It was called Firefox.

Did not!! DID NOT!! THAT WAS JUST A MOVIE!!1!!!!!!11 THEY HAD NOTHING CLOSE TO THE AWESOMENESS OF THE SR-71!!!11!!
posted by Skygazer at 2:23 PM on February 28, 2010


I always suspected the SR-71 had a Triethlylborane (TEB) chemical ignition system for strating ignition for the main burners and afterburners.

Pops zit. Adjusts hard on in pants...
posted by Skygazer at 2:36 PM on February 28, 2010


and another story from sled driver, about one of the flights after the bombing of Libya.

Firefox, may not have been real but has some nice fan sites.
posted by Z303 at 2:37 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there nothing that is not cool about this plane?
posted by rtha at 2:44 PM on February 28, 2010


I'm saving up my pennies for a far-in-the-distant-future military surplus auction.

(OK, those are A12s, but still... way better than some oil-packed Jeep.)
posted by cog_nate at 2:45 PM on February 28, 2010


There's a few collected newsgroup postings from the awesome Mary Shafer about the SR-71, over on yarchive.net. She talks a little about the TEB ignition system, Skygazer, and also about how the general philosophy of the plane differs from e.g. a fighter.

After they were taken out of military service, NASA operated the SR-71 for a while, for high speed/high altitude research purposes. Mary is one of the researchers who was involved in their operation. There's a lot more great stuff to be found if you search Google groups for her name with just about any aviation keyword you can think of.

She also mentions Richard Graham's book, which I think means this one, since he has more than one now. I have this book, and it's pretty good. Graham was an SR-71 pilot for quite some time, and eventually ended up pretty high up in the program, so he knows his stuff on this topic.
posted by FishBike at 2:54 PM on February 28, 2010


The Soviets had their own version. It was called Firefox.

The MiG-25 was an impressive aircraft--an interceptor designed to chase the Blackbird. However, it's operational limit was mach 2.5, and even then only for short bursts. When Victor Belenko defected, his tanks were practically dry.

While there were cases where it clocked mach 3, the engines were destroyed and had to be replaced.
posted by MrGuilt at 3:16 PM on February 28, 2010


The Firefox was fictional, but the Foxbat wasn't.
posted by Mcable at 3:18 PM on February 28, 2010


Thanks! Great post! My grandpa, Col. Ed Payne, flew the first sortie in the SR. I'm proud, and I love learning more about the plane!

After that, he raised five girls, ranched cattle, survived heart attacks, strokes, prostate cancer, and quitting smoking, and is still a pisser. In case you wondered what kind of stones it took to fly this thing.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:20 PM on February 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


Another Foxbat fun fact: at altitude and speed, the turning radius was supposedly 200 miles. Also, if you turned on the radar on the ground, you cooked everything in a 500 foot radius.

Sorry for the slight derail, but the SR-71 and Mig-25 are two of my favorite aircraft.
posted by Mcable at 3:24 PM on February 28, 2010


I was also obsessed with this plane as a child growing up in the 1980's. There was a certain majesty and impeccability to it. I don't think its lost any of its charm to this day.
posted by Chocomog at 3:36 PM on February 28, 2010


Brian Shul is one of those guys who makes defending copyright a challenge. I have long wanted to read Sled Driver, but I'm sure as hell not going to pay $427 to do so. But by both the letter and the spirit of copyright, it's his decision to price and that's what he decided—so here is me, not having read Sled Driver.

Too bad. I'll bet it's a great book.
posted by cribcage at 4:02 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fishbike: She talks a little about the TEB ignition system,

Oh she does??

he heeh.. That's good that she talks about the TEB sytem that was used for the ignition with TEB as a system..

because the SR-71 was just the coolest-est. And it had a TEB Ignition system that ignited that system of TEB....Yep, I bet those main thrusters and afterburners were full of TEB..I'd love to discuss that with her, it has long puzzled me how the TEB is the system of ignition that ignites....and that plane goes so fast...phew....
posted by Skygazer at 4:15 PM on February 28, 2010


Speaking of inlet unstarts, they lead naturally to bailing out at Mach 3+
posted by overyield at 4:17 PM on February 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


"Speaking of inlet unstarts, they lead naturally to bailing out at Mach 3+
posted by overyield at 4:17 PM on February 28"

That was a fun read, test pilots are awesome and what they do is terrifying.
posted by Vindaloo at 4:34 PM on February 28, 2010


This is what Al Gore invented the internets for.
posted by paladin at 4:38 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


overyield, that sounds like the experience that caused them add a heater to the pressure suit face shield, precisely so that it wouldn't ice over after a high-altitude ejection. In addition to reassuring a crew member that they are not already dead, they need to be able to see how high up they are if the main chute hasn't deployed yet.

If you deploy the chute too high up, you run out of oxygen and die before getting down to breathable air. If you open the helmet too high up to see where you are, the air is too thin to breathe and you die. If the chute deployment mechanism actually has failed, and you wait too long to deploy it manually, you hit the ground hard and die.

So they concluded it was pretty important that the face shield not ice over any more.
posted by FishBike at 4:45 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apparently this thing leaked fuel at ground level, so they'd fill it up and launch fast, so it could get to altitude. At altitude the "skin" of the tanks expanded and sealed the gaps.

I can't imagine the logistics of a flight.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:51 PM on February 28, 2010


GET THE RICHARD GRAHAM SR-71 BOOKS. That man flew the planes, and loved what he was doing and the people he worked with, and it shows throughout his work. I have a pretty good collection of aviation books and can't think of anything in there that qualifies as a "page-turner" except for the Graham series.
posted by crapmatic at 4:58 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Er... actually scratch that... Fate Is The Hunter was the other page turner.
posted by crapmatic at 4:59 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


In addition to the somewhat leaky fuel tanks, there are a couple of intentional "leaks" described on page 1-11 (see the Combustion Chamber Drain Valve part). If normal leakage isn't present here, repair is needed. I find that quite amusing.

Caution Skygazer: that page mentions TEB again, so you may wish to avoid it.

posted by FishBike at 5:01 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


(link borked, trying again: page 1-11)
posted by FishBike at 5:10 PM on February 28, 2010


Between the Eyes.
posted by ovvl at 5:18 PM on February 28, 2010


I was very surprised when I saw the SR-71 that is mounted on a pylon in front of the San Diego Air and Space Museum how small it was. But in relation to its size the engines are HUGE. And of course its payload was one pilot and some cameras, so most of the rest is fuel tank...
posted by localroger at 5:25 PM on February 28, 2010


I have a pretty good collection of aviation books...

Incidentally, if anybody hits this thread who has read Sled Driver, I'd love to hear thoughts.
posted by cribcage at 5:44 PM on February 28, 2010


Definitely visit the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum in Dulles if you're ever in the DC area. It's got the SR-71 and a bunch of other cool stuff.
posted by empath at 5:56 PM on February 28, 2010


Actually I have read Sled Driver... it's been many years since I last cracked it open, but I recall it focused more heavily on the photography, and didn't have the nitty-gritty of life at the squadron. It's excellent for portraying the beauty of 80,000 ft and the basic idea of how the program worked, but not so much as far as the people who ran it. Also I recall it was published around the end of the Cold War, so the author had a lot more cause to be careful about what was printed.
posted by crapmatic at 6:23 PM on February 28, 2010


Most beautiful vehicle ever made, hands down.
posted by Scoo at 6:46 PM on February 28, 2010


Roger that Aspen, Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one.

Nothing gets my dick harder than watching professionals doing their jobs awesomely.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:19 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Helpful tip: when flying without a pressure suit, delay ejection until below Mach 1.0

Also, the fuel is a heat sink?!
posted by Hoenikker at 8:01 PM on February 28, 2010


I worked with some pretty high level military guys when i got my first job out of college, and this tale has always stayed with me:

The AF Colonel was stationed in Germany, and they were going to come home for the holidays. The Colonel drove the family to the airport, put them on the plane, went home and change into work clothes, and drove to the base, where he piloted an SR-71 back to American soil. Upon arrival, he went home, took a shower, and drove to the airport. He had to wait about an hour before his family deplaned from their commercial fight :-)
posted by wlai at 8:50 PM on February 28, 2010 [3 favorites]



All the links above brought back so many memories of growing up idolizing this plane and other fighter planes. What is it about being a young boy that brings so many grandiose ideas of being a pilot? I see it in my son now, who cannot speak as of age 7, but stops still and admires planes and shares the same amazement in his eyes that I had when I was his age. Thanks for sharing all the links everyone!
posted by dealing away at 9:15 PM on February 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Definitely visit the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum in Dulles if you're ever in the DC area.

If you are in the midwest, you can check out the National Museum of the United States Air Force. On display is not only an SR-71, but the only surviving example of a YF-12, a proposed interceptor version. They have a Foxbat being restored as well (among many other interesting aircraft).
posted by MrGuilt at 9:20 PM on February 28, 2010


Here's another interesting anecdote: Paul Crickmore's book on SR-71 ops in Europe recounts the SR-71 launch out of Beale AFB CA to Griffiss AFB NY where it would then head to Israel/Egypt to photograph the Yom Kippur War. The book says: Lt. Col. Jim Shelton and Maj. Gary Coleman got airborne from Beale in 64-17979 at 2200 hrs [this may very well have been UTC, as most scheduling is done in UTC, not local time] on 11 October [1973] and headed for Griffiss. They were met by an angry base commander and three Lockheed tech reps after laying 'a heavy late-night sonic boom track' across the US and down into New York state as they made their descent from altitude.

Interestingly, newspapers the next day reported on a mysterious "thunderous boom": "Law enforcement officers in at least three Western Ohio counties were swamped with reports of unidentified flying objects prior to and after a shock wave hit in the area around 9 p.m. Thursday."

Air Force officials in Pennsylvania and officers at the Naval Observatory in Washington said they had sighted nothing that could have caused a sonic boom or explosion.

Yeah, right.
posted by crapmatic at 9:42 PM on February 28, 2010


The "Bailing out at Mach 3+ link is more awesome if you copy the document into Word and find/replace all instances of the word "I" with "I, Steve Austin".
posted by Keith Talent at 9:52 PM on February 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dinghy stabber included.
posted by tellurian at 10:59 PM on February 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


[this is awesome. I am ten again, sitting in a corner of the school cafeteria slurping my chocolate milk carton and reading about airplanes.]

For folks in the Northwest, the Boeing Museum of Flight has an SR-71 and, IIRC, a cockpit you can sit in as well as one of the hypersonic drones the aircraft could launch. It's a great museum if you like this kind of stuff (and, even though it's an outgrowth of Boeing, it's a general aircraft museum, not only a Boeing company museum).

Seeing them, I'm always struck by their consistent and unified yet alien aesthetic, as if they were the everyday objects of some beings that only lived at Mach 3.
posted by hattifattener at 11:09 PM on February 28, 2010


I am also among those here who have been obsessed with this plane since childhood. For me, one of the coolest things about the SR-71 is that it looks like what a kid might draw when tasked with coming up with the fastest, meanest, most badass plane evar.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:42 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Things I learned from reading the first part of the manual:

• There are no parking brakes! When starting the engines, make sure the wheels are chocked.
• You can't start the engines yourself. Apparently you have to get the ground people to plug a starter unit into the engines.
• Start the left-hand engine first on odd-numbered flights, and the right-hand engine first on even-numbered flights.

I find it's reassuring to be aware of these flying hints, even if the planes have been decommissioned and I'm a newspaper writer in Canada. Never underestimate contingency.
posted by bicyclefish at 7:39 AM on March 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


For anyone that loves the history of stealth, the SR-71 or hackers, I would suggest "Skunk Works" by Ben Rich (one of the fathers of stealth + eventual Director of Lockheed's Skunk Works division)
posted by mincus at 7:44 AM on March 1, 2010


Also, the fuel is a heat sink?!

Yep, and it's also used as hydraulic fluid to control various engine components. See "engine fuel hydraulic system" on page 1-21. This is maybe not as weird as it might seem at first, given that the consistency of the fuel is more like hydraulic oil than it is like ordinary jet fuel, and it's not particularly flammable (hence the chemical ignition system required to light it off).
posted by FishBike at 7:52 AM on March 1, 2010


bicyclefish - not just any starter unit, an AG-330 with dual unmuffled Buick V8s.
posted by djb at 7:55 AM on March 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Using fuel as a heat sink isn't all that exotic. Practically every car on the road today has a fuel pump that's cooled by being immersed in gasoline in the tank.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:15 AM on March 1, 2010


For folks in the Northwest, the Boeing Museum of Flight has an SR-71 and, IIRC, a cockpit you can sit in as well as one of the hypersonic drones the aircraft could launch.

That is a cool museum. The Blackbird there is the sole remaining M-21, which was designed to launch D-21s.

However, on the fourth attempts to launch a D-21, it cause the mothership to crash, causing the lose of one crew member. Kelly Johnson, pulled the plug on this concept. The M-21 was launched operationally from the wing of a B-52.

For those interested in seeing a one (either an SR-71, it's predecessor, the A-12 Oxcart, the YF-12 or M-21/D-21), there is an interactive map.
posted by MrGuilt at 10:52 AM on March 1, 2010


Looking through that manual and trying to get one's brains around the sheer complexity of the thing is daunting.

• You can't start the engines yourself. Apparently you have to get the ground people to plug a starter unit into the engines.

This knowledge disappoints me. I know it is naive, but I like to think of the SR-71 as being able to land and take off from anywhere it wants, without needing a whole ground crew just to start the engines.

So if, anyone from skunkworks is reading this, please fix that problemo. These ultra planes need to be self sufficient bad asses....not high maintenance prima Donna's.

Which reminds me, I hope we get a view of the Aurora sometime soon, that isn't an artist rendering.

Right, so anyone want to get into the nitty gritty of Triethylborat (TEB) Chemical ignition systems that ignite the system of the SR-71 with the chemical TEB (page 1-22 in the manual I believe), I'll be right here looking at pictures of MILF's and poppin' zits.
posted by Skygazer at 10:56 AM on March 1, 2010


MrGuilt: For those interested in seeing a one (either an SR-71, it's predecessor, the A-12 Oxcart, the YF-12 or M-21/D-21), there is an interactive map.

There's a YF-12 (SR-71 prototype) on the deck of the USS Intrepid in New York City. Sadly, you can't go inside, but you can climb all around it. I was in a band about a decade and a half ago and we took our 8x10 band photo in front of the thing with the nose right behind us and the 4 of us looking pretty damned semi-psychotic. It was badass, but sadly the band fell apart under the weight of its own unsustainable pretense towards transcendence...
posted by Skygazer at 11:14 AM on March 1, 2010


*reads "inlet unstart procedures"*

*gets airsick*
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:54 PM on March 1, 2010


Overyield: Speaking of inlet unstarts, they lead naturally to bailing out at Mach 3+

That is my idea of a story. Holy pressurized suit falling through 80,000 feet Batman!!

Even the automatic life-sustaining systems in the pressurized suit are amazing in complexity and in sheer life preserving genius.

Also, I read that off my cellphone in a bar, with a nice drink-y and it was the most mesmerized awe-filled quarter hour or so, I've had in a long long time.

Thank you and thankyou.....
posted by Skygazer at 2:25 PM on March 1, 2010


Another test pilot writing about test flying the SR-71 and another Mach 3 jet (Jet on the cover), the XB-70 which was cancelled after two prototypes.


Nasa - The Smell of Kerosene by Donal L. Mallick (PDF/book). And there's more fun and joy to be had with inlet unstarts beginning on page 182.

Also, I came across this quite entertaining pissing contest on a thread regarding the Foxbat (Mig-25) vs. the SR-71. There's also quite a bit about the F-14 and the foxhound as well as a bunch of other cold war jets.
posted by Skygazer at 3:07 PM on March 1, 2010


Not sure what's up with that linking, but

Nasa - The Smell of Kerosene by Donal L. Mallick (PDF/book)

is at: www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/pdf/88797main_kerosene.pdf
posted by Skygazer at 3:14 PM on March 1, 2010


There's a YF-12 (SR-71 prototype) on the deck of the USS Intrepid in New York City.

It's an A-12 that they have. Unfortunately, they don't know how to take care of it. I have already written my congressmen to insist that that museum doesn't get a space shuttle.
posted by MrGuilt at 3:57 PM on March 1, 2010


The Castle Air Museum in Atwater, Calif. has an SR-71, among dozens of other cool aircraft. We saw it on Open Cockpit Day and got a closer look. It's such a beautiful aircraft, and smaller than I imagined it when I was a kid and it was my favorite. jet. ever.
posted by DakotaPaul at 4:00 PM on March 1, 2010


For comparison, the SR-71 has about the same maximum takeoff weight as current Boeing 737 models, and is roughly the same length as the shorter 737s. The SR-71's wingspan is only about half of a 737, though. So while it's not huge, it's not really small either.
posted by FishBike at 7:09 PM on March 1, 2010


Also, the fuel is a heat sink?!

Yup, very common in aircraft nowadays. Jet fuel is surprisingly stable and has a very high thermal capacity. Turbojets/fans are usually liquid-cooled with their own fuel before it gets burned, and computer equipment that requires liquid cooling usually utilizes the fuel system as well. Don't spring a leak, though, it's pretty nasty stuff to get on your skin.

Probably the most important thing I learned in my fixed-wing design classes - form very closely follows function on aircraft. If you want it to go fast, it's gotta look fast. No joke!
posted by backseatpilot at 11:28 AM on March 2, 2010


If you want it to go fast, it's gotta look fast. No joke!

... and the reason for that is Lift Demons don't like ugly airplanes.
posted by FishBike at 11:52 AM on March 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


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