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During the early years of the Cold War, the most effective way to gather strategic intelligence about the Soviet Union and its allies was manned overflight. Lockheed's U-2 was spectacularly successful in this role. Much to the concern of President Eisenhower, its shape meant that it could be tracked on Russian radars. Given the highly sensitive nature of such flights, the President insisted that every effort should be made to reduce to zero the U-2's radar cross section (RCS), thereby making the aircraft "invisible." When this was proven to be impossible, the stage was set for a U-2 replacement. Following a competition between Lockheed and Convair, the former was declared the winner and the result was the A-12. Designed to incorporate 'stealth' features before the term was even coined, the A-12 has to date proven to be the fastest, highest flying jet aircraft ever built, and is operated exclusively by the Central Intelligence Agency. This book will also cover a two-seat variation of the design built as an advanced interceptor - the YF-12. In addition, the D-21 drone programme, known as Tagboard will also be covered.
From its questionable debut over Panama, the shoot-down of a Nighthawk during Operation Allied Force over the former Yugoslavia, to the mind-boggling successes enjoyed by the type in the two Gulf Wars, this is the story of another 'Skunk Works' icon that took aircraft design and operational capabilities to previously unprecedented levels.Even from the earliest days of 'dog-fighting', when pilots attempted to attack their advisories with the sun on their backs, one adage has held true - "you can't destroy what you can't see". Even with the advent of radar the precept remains valid, however, the "But how?" conundrum had perplexed aircraft design engineers since the Second World War. Although designers and engineers had a number of tools available to help reduce an aircraft's Radar Cross Section (RCS), ranging from its physical shape, to the use of Radar Absorbent Materials (RAM) - as seen in the A-12/SR-71, any reductions achieved by the mid 1970's were at best modest and certainly not enough to gain "an explicit operational advantage". The magnitude of the problem faced is demonstrated by the radar equation "detection range is proportional to the fourth root of the radar cross-section." That is to say, in order to reduce the detection range by a factor of 10 in number, it is necessary to reduce the target aircraft's RCS by a factor of 10,000 or 40 dBs!However utilising the unrivalled talent available within the legendary Lockheed 'Skunk Works' and what was at the time, ground-breaking computer technology, project 'Have Blue' validated the concept of stealth and evolved into the highly classified 'Senior Trend' (F-117A) programme.
The SR-71 has come to represent the very pinnacle of Cold War aircraft design - indeed, it has become an icon. Together with its predecessor, the A-12, the Blackbird was a giant leap into the technical unknown as the design employed many forms of new technology made necessary by the excesses of speed, altitude and temperature to which the aircraft was subjected. Throughout its 34-year Air Force career, the SR-71 proved itself to be the world's fastest and highest flying operational manned aircraft. It set a number of world records for altitude and speed, including an absolute altitude record of 85,069ft on 28 July 1974, and an absolute speed record of 2,193.2mph the same day. This truly was a unique and ground-breaking aircraft, whose fascinating design history is explored here in full and illuminated with photographs and detailed technical illustrations.
Even before the first operational flight of the legendary Lockheed U-2 spy plane, aircraft design genius Kelly Johnson began work with his team at the company's "Skunk Works" plant on the type's replacement. The result was the SR-71. First deployed on March 9, 1968, this tri-sonic 'hotrod' flew its first operational sortie over North Vietnam just 12 days later. On that debut mission, the Blackbird overflew surface-to-air missile sites with complete impunity, collecting the detailed intelligence that led directly to the end of the siege of Khe Sanh in the process. Thereafter, the SR-71 roamed freely over areas previously denied to the vulnerable U-2, capturing photographic, radar and electronic intelligence. This book examines the immense impact this revolutionary aircraft had, not only on North Vietnam (Vietnam War, 1955-1975) but during the Cold War (1946-1991) as a whole, gathering information about the Soviet nuclear submarine fleet based in Vladivostok as well as the port's defenses, monitoring the actions of North Korea and flying four 11-hour, non-stop sorties into the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War in the late 1980s.