Former SR-71 pilot, "Buz" Carpenter, who flew the “Blackbird” in the Cosmosphere’s lobby, spoke to packed crowds on September 5 and 6. He did three public presentations, visiting with people and signing autographs afterwards. He also provided a training for Cosmosphere volunteers.
More than 500 people came to hear his stories about the famous plane. He shared photographs and gave people an insider’s perspective on the “Blackbird.”
Only 32 Blackbirds were ever made, and they were in service from 1964-1998. Despite many attempts to shoot them down, none of the planes were lost due to enemy fire. However, 12 of them were destroyed in accidents. The plane was designed to be one of the first planes not detectable by radar. Unfortunately, radar technology was advancing at a rate that outpaced that particular design feature.
The great defensive ability of the plane was its high speed and altitude. Standard evasive action was just to accelerate, which made it almost invulnerable to the attack technologies of the time. The top speed of the plane was mach 3.3 (2,200 miles/hour or 36 miles/minute). In 1990, during a speed test, an SR-71 flew from LA to Dulles Airport in 64 minutes. They flew faster than a bullet from a standard 30.06 hunting rifle.
The SR-71 was American's first "stealth" plane, and was the last one designed with a slide rule. At cruising speeds, the aircraft skin reached average temperatures of about 600F. This caused the aircraft to grow 3-4 inches in length and 1-2 inches in width. The engine area was 3400F, with the coolest parts of the plane being about 450F. The 2.0 inch thick laminated quartz glass pilot window was 620F.
Pilots wore pressure suits derived from the Gemini designs through the mid 70s. The replacement pressure suit in the late 70s served as the initial Space Shuttle suits for test flights.
The Blackbird generally leveled off around 75,000 feet, and as fuel burned off would climb up around 82-85,000 feet. At 80,000 feet, you can see the curvature of the Earth about 350 miles in all directions.
Carpenter accrued 777 hours flying SR-71 planes. He flew Blackbirds as an aircraft commander and later as an instructor pilot, with over 60 operational missions. He also flew in the C-141, RF-4C, and T-38 planes, flying 150 combat hours in Vietnam. He worked in the Pentagon and served as Wing commander at Ramstein Air Base in German during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
He retired as a Colonel after serving as the 2nd Air Force Vice Commander, responsible for all the USAF Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance flying assets. He is currently a docent for the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, Udvar Hazy Center.