“WHEN I FIRST LAID EYES ON THE BLACK­BIRD, I ASKED MY­SELF HOW SUCH A THING COULD EVEN BE BUILT.”

iD magazine - - Technology -

FOR­MER BLACK­BIRD PILOT TERRY PAP­PAS

Pi­lots con­sider the SR-71 Black­bird to be one of mil­i­tary avi­a­tion his­tory’s great­est chal­lenges. The train­ing had been com­pa­ra­bly chal­leng­ing: Can­di­dates had to un­dergo var­i­ous NASA men­tal and phys­i­cal ap­ti­tude tests and weren’t al­lowed to have a sin­gle en­try in their med­i­cal records. They had to be able to keep the jet un­der con­trol, even at speeds around Mach 3, and mas­ter the dif­fi­cult tech­nique of re­fu­el­ing in the air vir­tu­ally blind. At the end of the long re­cruit­ment pro­cess, just 86 men were cho­sen from among thou­sands of can­di­dates. Th­ese were the elite of the elite, and the pride of the en­tire U.S. Air Force— un­til the Black­bird was re­tired af­ter 35 years.

TEAM­WORK The pilot sits in the front of the cock­pit and the nav­i­ga­tor oc­cu­pies the rear. The lat­ter con­veys co­or­di­nates and the plane’s po­si­tion to the pilot via ra­dio. The rea­son: At 2,200 miles per hour, it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for even the best pi­lots t

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