Hello again, my geeky friends!
The spirit struck me tonight and I decided that I would put together a blogpost on some outstanding historic film that I found a while back by chance. If you’re a fan of aviation history, you’re in for a treat!
In the 1950s during the early days of the cold war, image-based intelligence was king. Getting high quality aerial reconnaissance photos was a major challenge especially in the days before the first successful recon satellite (called Corona which wouldn’t be successful until 1960).
So how did the US get photographs over communist territory before satellites? The short answer: a very high-flying single jet engine plane. The even shorter answer: the U-2.
Nicknamed the “Dragon Lady”, the U-2 is a light-weight recon jet whose soul payload was a massive camera built to take high-altitude photographs of sites on the ground.
The U-2 began operations in 1957 and believe it or not, is still in operation today for the United States Air Force.
The most amazing thing about this jet is the altitude at which it could fly – 70,000 ft was the operational ceiling for the U-2. That’s nearly a low-Earth orbit; which means that the first pilots of the U-2 were among the first humans to observe the curvature of the Earth with their own eyes.
The fine folks at the Lockheed Martin company have generously released the test footage for a few of their iconic aerial platforms. The following video is test film for the U-2 Dragon Lady. (None of these have sound, so no need to adjust your speakers)
Even though the U-2 is still kicking around, the U-2 program suffered a heavy blow with the infamous shoot-down of Frances Gary Powers in May, 1960.
The need for a new plane with even higher performance became clear to the US government, and so a replacement was commissioned.
The SR-71 has been the object of many a boyhood fascination since it was first publicly fielded. Its unique design was what always attracted me to it and when I was young, the story of its development was almost as notorious as the plane itself. Ironically, what many people don’t know is that the SR-71 was not an original airplane.
Developed by a crack team of Lockheed engineers known as the “skunkworks” and led by the legendary figure Clarence “Kelly” Johnson the A-12 Archangel was meant to blow the lid off of traditional aerial design.
The A-12 was also designed as an aerial reconnaisance platform which eventually made it into the arsenal of the United States Air Force when the name would change from A-12 to SR-71.
The following video is Lockheed footage of the first flight of the A-12 Archangel:
The A-12 incorporated new anti-radar features which revolutionized the way that military flight design was approached.
After the Gary Powers incident, the danger posed by surface to air missile systems was suddenly a major issue that had to be dealt with during the design of America’s newest generation of air-power.
Enter the F-117 Nighthawk A.K.A. the stealth fighter.
The Nighthawk was another plane that captivated me as a child. After all, there’s nothing cooler than a super fast, super cool looking black fighter streaking through the sky at your local air show when you’re a 10 year old boy.
The Nighthawk incorporated many of the same design principles as the A-12, and went on to a long service in the USAF just like the previous two jets.
The Nighthawk represents the jet model which jumped the gap between reconnaissance aircraft design and fighting aircraft design.
To round out the post, I’d like to thank the Lockheed Martin company for taking the time to post these videos and to share them with the world.
As a bonus, that there’s a common thread linking all 3 of these aircraft. If you can figure out exactly what it is, I’ll give you a thumbs up for your prowess in both observation and historic intellect!
Stay geeky, folks!