The eye in the sky | Sunday Observer

The eye in the sky

Our planet is constantly been watched from above, even now there is probably a drone or areconnaissance plane imaging earth’s surface.

In 1947 the cold war erupted, the opponents the West versus the East. Both nations keeping a close eye on any major breakthroughs made by each other. We must thank the cold war, because it gave birth to three revolutionary planes the U2, the A-12 and the SR-71 blackbird. The intention of these planes, not to inflict death, but only to photograph the Soviet Union in order to see what developments were under way.

The U-2 nicknamed ‘Dragon Lady’ was a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, which flew with a top speed of 805 Km/h. What made the U-2 significant was that it could fly over enemy radar undetected, thus making it a spy plane. However, on May 1, 1960 one of Americas U-2 was shot down by the Soviet Union’s air defense.

This incident was a devastating time for the designers of the soon to become A-12 reconnaissance plane. The shooting down of the U-2 caused the ban of future U-2 planes to fly over the Soviet Union as tensions grew stronger, between the east and the west.

It had come to light that the soviet union’s radar capabilities were growing, this is when the CIA gave an order to Lockheed’s ‘skunk works’ the team of engineers who were responsible for the development of the U-2and soon to be A-12. The order was to make the12 edition of the Archangel project a stealth plane.

If you ever saw the A-12 fly over, you may have thought it was a UFO. There were rumours instigating that UFO’s were spotted in Arizona flying near the top-secret AREA 51. The constant sighting of the plane fueled bar talk, all this bar talk and theories were finally scotched by the government, they were about to unveil the curtain on a much more developed and better version of the A-12, the SR-71 blackbird.

The designer of the SR-71 Blackbird, Clarence ‘Kelly’Johnson was the same designer of the U-2 and the A-12. The new design came with two seats, one for the pilot and one for the reconnaissance pilot.

The SR-71 came with a big advantage compared with the A-12. The pilot didn’t have to do recon and fly, as there was a second pilot.

The SR-71 breaking the sound barrier, is the fastest manned jet in the world, travelling at a whooping Mach 3.2 (3529 Km/h)thrice the speed of sound (1,234.8 km/h),and some sources speculate that it could accelerate to an astonishing Mach 3.5 (4321.8 Km/h). The RS-71 (Reconnaissance Strike) became the SR-71, after president Lyndon D Johnson gave his speech in front of the nation, accidentally reading the designation the wrong way around, saying SR-71 instead of RS-71. The mistake made by the president was not going to be changed as he is president. Therefore, the United States Air Force (USAF) changed the name to SR-71, and the new designation suited the plane as it was easier to say.

Stealth, the key feature for the project.

When the word stealth is mentioned you are probably thinking such hi-tech equipment, but no. The only hi-tech part of the plane was its sleek shape and its camera. The SR-71 could fly totally undetected by radar. The unique shape of the aircraft is what allowed the plane to go undetected. Even though the SR-71 could go undetected, the jet flew at tremendous altitude of 85000 ft. the only reason was that the USAF was not sure of the Soviet Union’s radar devolvement, in short they could not risk another jet to be shot down over the union, as it would spark a devastating nuclear war.

The ulterior motive for the SR-71 was to recon the Soviet Union. However, the jet reconned Vietnam, North Korea and many other countries. You are probably thinking, how did SR-71 took pictures while travelling super-fast. The blackbird was equipped with a high-resolution camera called technical objective camera (TEOC). The camera has a shutter speed around one to two tenths of a second. The camera takes pictures off a mirror that is faced in the opposite direction of the flying plane. The camera is either calibrated by a computer or by the reconnaissance pilot to take high resolution images.

The blackbird’s high resolution images helped the United States win the cold war. Most importantly the SR-71 prevented one of the world’s deadliest attacks; the Soviet Union was on the brink of launching its nuclear arsenal against the United States. In short, the SR-71 blackbird strong-armed the Soviet Union, resulting in a glorious victory for the United States.

The SR-71 Blackbird served for a good 50 years. Now retired, it is on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in the United States.

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