Spy vs Spy Week


A lineup of A-12s, quite possibly at Groom Lake

The U-2 reconnaissance aircraft was developed and became operational in the mid 1950s, and while it was successful, CIA officials had predicted that the aircraft’s useful lifetime for flights over the USSR would only be around 18 months. In its first flights over Soviet territory, the U-2 was detected and tracked very successfully by their air defense warning system. Efforts were made to make the U-2 less vulnerable, and new advances in radar-absorbent materials were tried and were successful to a degree, but not enough to solve the problem. A number of different analyses determined that supersonic speed made radar detection less likely, and it was decided that an extremely fast, high flying aircraft that also incorporated the best stealth technology available was the approach to take.

Continue reading Making OXCART

Spy vs Spy Week, Startup

Startup: Necessary Condescension – Spy Plane Edition

The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. Nevada mountains sold separately.

Last week on Necessary Condescension, we explained the difference between an aileron roll, a barrel roll, and a cinnamon roll. To recap, an aileron roll is what you do when Peppy yells at you to do a barrel roll, a barrel roll is a very cool strafing loop in mid-air, and a cinnamon roll for breakfast explains the man-boobs I have to accompany my beer gut. We also said we would later explain what flight has in common with dribble glasses. What we didn’t say was that we don’t have an engineering degree and may not be qualified to write this article, but you made it this far so you may as well keep going.

Continue reading Startup: Necessary Condescension – Spy Plane Edition

User Input

User Input: Vintage Beauty

If you don’t think that’s beautiful, you’re probably on the wrong site.

A few years ago, an ex-girlfriend bought me a birthday present that took my breath away. It was a huge painting of a Supermarine Spitfire flying through the clouds; now I know what you’re thinking. We’ve all seen paintings like this […]


Startup: Follow the Camel

The Sopwith Camel was one of the most successful aircraft of the First World War. It racked up more kills than any other Allied craft, and took the lead by being simple, reliable and efficient. But in a way, it was also responsible for the Space Shuttle program.

Continue reading Startup: Follow the Camel


Startup: What Could Be More Awesome Than Flame Shockwaves?

The Pratt & Whitney J58 showing off its shock-waves.

For those of you unfamiliar, please meet the astonishing Pratt & Whitney J58, which may be the most convincing argument in favour of hybrid technology I’ve ever heard. Oh sure, it’s not a hybrid in the boring sense of a Toyota Prius, but strap […]

Stealth Week

Can’t See It, Can’t Catch It: The CIA’s OXCART Dart

While the transparent behemoth that I wrote about earlier is probably the first aircraft designed with a form of stealth intentionally built-in, the Lockheed family of supersonic lawn darts starting with the A-12 pictured above were the first operational aircraft engineered to reduce their RADAR profile – what we currently picture as stealth technology.

Continue reading Can’t See It, Can’t Catch It: The CIA’s OXCART Dart