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Customer Review

on 31 July 2010
Ordering this book was not difficult because i was hoping the title would be true to its word and providing an insight into what flying at over 2200 mph felt like at over sixteen miles above the Earth's surface.

If you are expecting dozens of lovely interior and exterior shots of these magnificent planes then this book will not be for you but as soon as i started reading Robert Grahams magnificent account of life in the USAF and becoming chief test pilot and instructor of the SR 71 programme i was hooked.

He writes in a beautifully fluid style which makes an often difficult subject incredibly interesting.

As each chapter develops we are told what was involved in the training of this elite flying operation not totalling more than seventy pilots and how even after many months of flight simulator training totalling 12 separate missions each with more demanding cenarios to test a pilots ability and then finding out you didnot make the final selection.

Only the very best were chosen and a persons temprement was just as important as his ability as a pilot and strangely enough if you didnot have a MRS at home you wouldnot even get on the short list.

Unlike most other supersonic aircraft it required two pilots to fly the SR71 with each pilot having his own individual set of instruments and each pilot had to work in tandem with the other to ensure that the required instruments and switches were operated in set sequence.

Unusually a second pair of reserve pilots would check the aircraft before the main flight pilots would take control of the aircraft going through each check procedure to ensure a safe takeoff.

The book focusses chapter by chapter on what was involved prior to a mission with the preperation of the plane to each pilot being kitted out in the $140,000 a piece compression suits (a huge sum in the early 1970s with each pilot being issued with two just incase one malfunctioned)and pre flight preperation to take off, flying at Mach 3.2 and then returning to Beale Air base and then switching off the engines and remaining in the cockpit to allow the airframe to cool down sufficiently thus allowing the technitions to touch the super heated Titanium.

To warm up their specially prepared food they would hold it against their windshield canopy for a minute or two turning it as if it was on a spit due to the canopy's 760 degree temperature.

Flying in excess of 2200mph would make the fuselage of the plane expand nearly 8 inches hence the fuel leaking from the fueltanks whilst stationary due to the inability of the Skunk works to develop a polymer sealant able to withstand 1000degrees.

The Titanium structure of all SR71 aircraft were actually built around the three fuel tanks, thus the tanks were an integral part of the planes structure unlike other jets whose fuel tanks were seprate entities to the plane.

At the centre of the book is a magnificent coloured photograph of the complex flight instrument panel and as each chapter develops a black and white section of that particular part of the instrument panel is highlited talking us through each section of the instrument panel and being then told what each switch or switches were used for in each process of pre flight and throughout the mission to eventual landing.

Each chapter really is a step by step explanation of what each switch on the particular part of the control panel being discussed actually did.There are small detailed explanations on how these switches actually worked.

Considering all SR71 jest are well in excess of thirty years old certain parts of their technology is bang up to date with current USAF stealth bombers using vertually the same tried and tested formula.

The current Eurofighter may be using multi million pound computer technology to fly the jet but the SR71 still holds the world speed and altitude record for man controlled flight.

Even today no jet even the Eurofighter or similar Russian or foreign equiflent can maintain Mach 3.2 flight for over 90minutes or longer as could the SR71.

Modern supersonic jets such as the Russian Mig fighters could reach in excess of 90000 feet or 16+miles above the Earths surface but due to their engine technology couldnot maintain that altitude for hours on end.

This is where Mr Grahams excellent writing style comes into play because even the name of most of these switches are fairly difficult to understand unless you have an aviation background but the explanations really help in showing what the switch was supposed to do.

Another fact in explaining his magnificent writing style is that the book has just a few photographs and is about 98% written text yet still its compelling reading even if the names given to certain switches or parts of the control panel might aswell be in Chinese due to their technical names. This certainly does not matter because his explanation however difficult it might be to understand in laymans terms makes so much sense and one can still comprehend how this magnificent jet actually works in theory.

This is why two pilots were required to fly an SR71 due to the many different switches that had to be operated in a given sequence hence having two people to ensure no switches were accidentally left untouched.

Even by todays million dollar & pounds computer controlled standards flying an SR 71 was extremely demanding as there was so much to take into account when flying at over three times the speed of sound.

As the title to my review states the pilots had to think 100miles ahead before they would make a manouver or try to bank the plane in flight.

Every minute they had travelled 33 miles such was the speed of Mach 3.2 travel.

Modern day planes able to fly at Mach3 can only do so for around ten minutes or less and then require a full engine overhall.

The SR71 could fly at this speed for over ninety minutes due to the unique design of the Pratt & Wittney P58 jet engines which operated on the afterburner continually at incredible altitudes in excess of 80,000ft with certain test pilots in its early pre test days reaching altitudes as high as 94,000ft hence the requirement of a NASA specification pressure suit with its inbuilt oxygen supply.

If a surface to air missile did locate the HABU as it was called after its resemblance to a particular type of Pitviper it just eccelerated and outran the projectile. No SR 71 was lost during a mission over hostile territory but during its early development tests several were lost often to quite simple glitches resulting in pilots ejecting.

Even during takeoff a plane was severly damaged due to low fuel and brake pressure but no SR71 was shot down during conflict.

The SR 71 still holds the speed record for the fastest air propelled aircraft at just over 2280mph.

It flew from New York to Heathrow London in 1Hr 52minutes and from Los Angelese to Washington a distance of 1998 miles in 1Hr 4minutes a speed of just over 2100mph.

It required a fleet of 53 specially adapted fuel tanker aircraft to keep the Skunk works fully operational and these subsonic airliners had to be specially modified to allow them to go supersonic thus allowing quicker fuel transfer to a SR71 which had to slow considerably to take on precious fuel.

From Los Angelese to London in an amazing 3Hrs 51minutes a distance of over 3500miles but the most incredible aspect of SR71 flight was that with its high powered surveillance cameras it could photograph 100,000 miles of the Earth's surface for every hour of its flight and this at 16 miles above the surface of our planet.

Having page after page of lovely photographs of the SR 71 would spoil this magnificent book for even with the technical jargon for which the book is covered in the writing style is superb and brings what could be a technical subject to the ordinary reader.

I would be very surprised indeed if the purchaser of this book was disappointed in its contents.

If you want to know exactly what was involved from the very start where the staff at the Pentagon gave clearence for a mission and then the plane was prepared for flight then this book will tell you all of this.

Just think over thirty years ago its contents would have been so secret that most of the American government had no idea of its existence let alone what the plane could do.

Even the day after the Pentagon cancelled the Skunk Works because of its then immense cost the SR71 was setting new records for manned flight.

Such is the planes secrecy that staff at the various museums that have a SR71 on display still do not know what certain parts clearly on public view were designed for or meant to do.

The highly classified black coating to the Titanium airframe is still part of USAF stealth technology even though it is now well over thirty years old.

Pentagon rules dictate that if somebody is not classified to receive such information then they have no need to know.

All the planes missions remain classified information and it may be many years before we are told what the SR71 was called to do.

We can guess by certain other books written by other authors about the plane but no actual Government document outlining a particular mission has been released.

For a book of over three hundred pages in length with few coloured photographs and on a subject i know little about it has stirred my imagination like no other.

It's one of those rarities that once you have started reading it you cannot put it down.

If you are thinking of buying this book for the very reason of knowing how to fly the worlds fastest jet it will be a sound purchase as it fills the void that all other books on the plane has left empty.

Pretty pictures however well taken will tell you nothing of what its like to cover 33miles every minute.

A great read and comes with an easy 5 star rating for contents.
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