Simply the best.

1966_sr71Kottke called it “The most remarkable airplane of the 20th century.” The overview is this Smithsonian article, trying to sum up all the superlatives about this incredible machine.

Created as the ultimate spy plane, the SR-71, which first took to the air in December 1964, flew reconnaissance missions until 1990, capable of hurtling along at more than Mach 3, about 2,280 miles per hour—faster than a rifle bullet—at 85,000 feet, or 16 miles above the earth. It is the fastest jet-powered airplane ever built. At top speeds, the surface heat of the airframe could reach 900 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hands-on description is this article by test pilot Bill Weaver, who describes how the plane deals with going so frakking fast and what happens when one of those systems breaks down.

Without proper scheduling, disturbances inside the inlet could result in the shock wave being expelled forward–a phenomenon known as an “inlet unstart.” That causes an instantaneous loss of engine thrust, explosive banging noises and violent yawing of the aircraft–like
being in a train wreck.

“Unstart” is a lovely understated test pilot word, much like the phrase “departing controlled flight.”

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