Ask someone to name the hottest aircraft ever. They would probably choose the Lockheed Blackbird, retired for a quarter-century. An iconic aircraft, it went Mach 3.2 and could cruise at 80,000 feet. It even looks hot, with two huge black engines, an elegant, all-black appearance and lines that still look futuristic.
“Lockheed Blackbird: Beyond the Secret Missions—The Missing Chapters,” by Paul F. Crickmore, tells the airplane’s story in amazing depth with marvelous photography. It may be the most detailed history of the Blackbird ever written.
Mr. Crickmore tells the aircraft’s story from inception to retirement. He opens with a brief history of post-World War II aerial surveillance. This tells readers why the aircraft was developed. He then takes readers through its development. Mr. Crickmore provides remarkable detail on its construction and the engineering that went into designing and building it. He then takes readers through the operational life of the program.
In it, he details all variants of the Blackbird. These included the A-12, the M-21, the YF-12, and the SR-71. In all, Lockheed built 50 Blackbird airframes. He also presents the aircraft’s operators. The CIA was the original user, operating A-12s. The U.S. Air Force inherited the aircraft as the SR-71. NASA used the SR-71, but for aerospace research, rather than reconnaissance. Mr. Crickmore provides a full account of the operations of all three organizations in different chapters of this book.
He provides fantastic insight into the aircraft and its operations. Its flight crews called it the Habu (a snake indigenous to Okinawa, where it first flew operational missions) rather than Blackbird. In addition to firsthand crew accounts of flying missions, he relates experiences of Swedish and Soviet pilots who attempted to intercept it. He provides accounts of encounters with Vietnamese and Libyan air defense systems. He even details the fate of all 50 Blackbirds.
This book is an update of Mr. Crickmore’s previous 1986 and 2016 books about the aircraft. The 1986 book was published during the Cold War, when much remained classified. That led Mr. Crickmore to update his book in 2016. “Lockheed Blackbird: Beyond the Secret Missions” used material declassified over the previous 30 years. After that book appeared, the CIA declassified an additional 850 pages of material on the CIA’s Vietnam-era Oxcart program.
“Lockheed Blackbird” may be the ultimate book about the aircraft. Highly readable, it’s one fans of the SR-71 will want.