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The Blackbird and the Buick.


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#1 Bladrian

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Posted 07 October 2002 - 17:44

I loved coming across this bit of detail whilst reading 'The Skunkworks' (Lockheed's ultra-secret R&D facility), so I thought I'd share it here. A tenuous motorsport connection, I know - but the machinery involved is interesting. Most of the book deals with the Lockheed SR-71, colloquially known as the Blackbird.

This was one hell of an airplane. When it was retired from active service in 1990 (I'm one of the people who think that was not a great idea ...), the Smithsonian requested that a Blackbird be delivered for eventual display in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, and that a new trans-continental speed record accompany the plane to it's final resting place. Ed Yeilding had the honour of delivering it on it's final 2,300 mile flight from California to Dulles. Flying at 84,000 feet, Ed pushed the plane up to Mach 3.3.
When Ed began his descent he had indeed set a new speed record in this magnificent plane: 2,404 statute miles in only 67 minutes, 54 seconds.It was the first time a sonic boom had traversed the entire length of the USA.
But the Buick (well, two of them!) got involved a lot earlier. In 1962, in fact. Because of the immense heat the plane would generate in flight at Mach 3, the Pratt & Whitney J-58 turbojets would generate an incredible 3,400 degrees F at the tailpipes. Shell had to produce a special fuel (JP-7) with an extremely high flashpoint for the engines to use, to prevent the plane turning into an instant bomb due to the high engine heat. It's flashpoint was so low, in fact, that you couldn't set fire to the fuel (JP-7) with a match. The only way to start the engines was to inject a chemical during the start procedure. ( Tetraethyl borane, in case anyone's interested ;)) The engine oil, formulated for high temperature, was practically solid at temperatures below 86 degrees. In fact before each flight, the oil had to be heated, and it took an hour to heat it 10 degrees. The Blackbird used two of these engines, and the Lockheed Skunk works called each one Godzilla. Each engine would produce the total output of the Queen Mary's four huge turbines, which churned out 160,000 shaft horsepower. In Ben Rich, one of the project engineers', own words:

"The first time we tried to test the engines, nothing happened. They wouldn't start. So we rigged up two big 425-cubic-inch Buick Wildcat race car engines, an estimated 500 horsepower each, to turn the massive starter shafts and those suckers did the trick. The hangar sounded like the damned stock car races, and starting those huge engines was tough..... But once those engines roared into life, it was a sight to behold."

A hell of an airplane. And the first time it started, there were two Buicks there to make it happen. I guess a wildcat would startle a blackbird into movement ..... heh.

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#2 Don Capps

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Posted 07 October 2002 - 18:24

Hooah!

#3 Gerr

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Posted 07 October 2002 - 20:59

Bladrian, a less tenuous connection to motorsport than you realize. The starter carts for the SR-71 were built at Kurtis-Kraft by Arlen Kurtis, son of Frank Kurtis. Kelly Johnson, the SR-71 designer, used to work in Buick's engine testing department in Flint. Johnson also designed the stream-lined Studebakers for the '33 Indy 500 in the wind-tunnel at U of M, Ann Arbor.

#4 Schummy

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Posted 07 October 2002 - 23:37

Blackbird was a fascinating "plane" indeed. In my eyes it is possibly the most beautiful (and impressive).

IIRC it was put in service to make certain astronomic studies using its high altitude, high speed and smooth ride. I think it was around 1990, and maybe when it was put out of "military" service :confused: Someone knows about this last mission for the great bird?

#5 Gerr

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Posted 07 October 2002 - 23:48

Schummy, I think you may find out at this site,
http://www.sr-71.org...kbird/index.htm
There are some pix of the starter cart there as well.

#6 Bladrian

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Posted 08 October 2002 - 17:27

Originally posted by Gerr
Bladrian, a less tenuous connection to motorsport than you realize. The starter carts for the SR-71 were built at Kurtis-Kraft by Arlen Kurtis, son of Frank Kurtis. Kelly Johnson, the SR-71 designer, used to work in Buick's engine testing department in Flint. Johnson also designed the stream-lined Studebakers for the '33 Indy 500 in the wind-tunnel at U of M, Ann Arbor.


Thanks for the info Gerr. Now it all makes sense ..... I couldn't quite figure out how a bunch of aero engineers arrived at a 'car' solution for the starting problem!

#7 Schummy

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Posted 08 October 2002 - 17:40

Gerr:

Excellent website about Blackbird. Thanks.

#8 Mark Beckman

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 01:57

Originally posted by Schummy
I think it was around 1990, and maybe when it was put out of "military" service :confused: Someone knows about this last mission for the great bird?


Well there was a few people who knew all about it but they seemed to have dissapeared, how odd. :lol:

#9 Bernd

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Posted 09 October 2002 - 02:07

Don't worry Bladrian Aurora continues to fly the unfriendly skies. It coming fully online was the reason for mothballing the Blackbirds which were far to expensive to keep running as a 'cover'