Airborne Awesomosity

Building Awesome

Factory floor at the Skunkworks, building SR-71s

Factory floor at the Skunkworks, building SR-71s

The Professor (remember him?) used this photo in a post a while back about OXCART. I think it is epically fantastic and it needs it’s own post. I’m not going to add any new knowledge about the A-12 or the SR-71. I’m just going to ask if you can imagine going to work every day knowing you were working on something truly special?

[Image Credit: Public Domain]

  • cruisintime

    The high point of aeronautic adventure. Them old boys just nailed it and hung on.
    New adventure is lacking now that the cash flow has slowed .

  • I thought at first it was Industrial Light and Magic and they were building Y-Wing models. (Even when I saw the Prevent FOD sign in the back I thought ILM was just being cute.)

    In a related edit… someone just e-mailed me to say The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose is having a 'science of Star Wars' exhibition now through February 2014 (gawd is it the middle of the decade already?)
    http://www.thetech.org/plan-your-visit/special-ex

    • It has been about 15 years ago, but I remember that the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum had a Star Wars exhibit with a bunch of the props. The main thing I remember was the 6' dia. Millennium Falcon had a bunch of automotive stickers on it, just tons of Champion Spark Plug decals etc.

      • SSurfer321

        I'm still kicking myself for missing that exhibit when it was at the Toledo Museum of Art back in the early 00's.

  • Will Campbell

    I'd kill to be part of building something as great as the SR-71. Heck, I'd be the first one to sign up to help restore one to flight status if it were to ever happen. ( It could be done.)

  • sawermassey

    I go to work knowing that I am doing something special…I do my best to attain the record for most miles earned and least miles traveled, (I get paid by the mile)

  • Martin M

    They don’t build things like they used to, the mentality has changed. Despite all the money thrown at modern aircraft, they still have lead times in the decades.

    Kelly Johnson proposed the A-12/Sr-71 in 1958, and it flew in 1962 (a whole year behind schedule!). The F-22 was proposed in 1981, and the first delivery was in 2003. 22 years of development, and it still doesn’t work right.

    • Rocket Man

      The Blackbird was designed and built by proto-nerds with pocket protectors and slide rules. The titanium came from the USSR through some creative backdoor skullduggery. Palmdale,CA was the home of the Skunkworks and Kelly Johnson did not suffer fools gladly. Go to the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio where there are two of these beasts lurking in the shadows. Walk up to them and put your hand on the airplane's skin. The sensation is mesmerizing. The men that flew these planes were gods !

    • Yeah, I think there's a lot more scope creep and navel gazing that goes on now. The re-iteration and goal post moving… I think it's because we hire experts to facilitate the process, and the experts realize there's no more job for them if there's no more process so they keep the process of development going endlessly. Not to dis on them too much, though, because the goalposts do keep moving. Your example of the F-22 in 1981 was a (late) cold war motivated design parameter; deploying weapons was not as important as having the most technologically advanced weapons. Keeping the enemy guessing was the tactic. (That's where your 'lead time' comes from.) By 1991 there was no more cold war. In 2001 we started fighting a completely different type of war.

      The military jeep was described and invented and mass produced in a very short time; but it had a very real and imminent application, there wasn't anything like it before; also it was very early 20th century in how its development cycle went. Not so much with your modern aircraft. There's plenty of them out there that will serve, and no one wants to (or needs to) rush a product to market if the market demands are changing. The mentality has changed because the technology is far more flexible now. You can do a redesign or a re-tooling in a matter of months. If your aircraft is suddenly obsolete before you've built one, it's not a self fulfilling prophesy like the Jeep and the Blackbird were, you just modify your design.

      But at some point you do need to roll something out the door, I guess. That's why we have the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Tesla Model S.

  • The Professor

    Bah! I'm still around, I'm just up to my ears in an intricate project with a rapidly approaching due date. Not much farting around time, unfortunately.

    • I'm glad to see you're still kicking (grad students)!

    • sawermassey

      No goal post moving for you, 1 YEAR!

  • Will Campbell

    Yes we are now fighting a gorilla war like Viet Nam unlike the cold war that could have become a traditional war. Oddly enough the A-12/SR71s were superb for gathering intel over southeast Asia. Again, they would be perfect for what we need in the middle east right now. Its the same sort of war but being fought in mountains and deserts rather than jungles. Lets go boom the middle east a bit and see if anything changes. It worked in the past. Heck, there are 3 RB57s acting as airborne relay centers that cost us $100M per year to fly. In '96 the operational budget for the Senior Crown program was $100M and that included all the air tankers, upkeep, and all supplies and crew. That was for 3 SR-71s with true all weather capability that could be onsite in a matter of hours anywhere in the world. No one would know when it was coming, what direction it was coming from and where it was going, or if it would come back later. There was also nothing that could be done about it. You can hide things from a satellite, but you can't hide things from the SR-71 because you never know when it could show up.

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