The SR-71, best known as the Blackbird, was one of the most famous jets ever flown by the United States military. The reconnaissance jet was never shot down, or even hit, over the course of its entire lifespan, although it’s been estimated that more than 4,000 missiles were fired at it over the decades.
The Blackbird had its first flight in 1964 and was retired in the late 1990s.
According to Aviation Geek Club, a story recently surfaced of what’s believed to be the first time a missile was fired at the famed plane. At least, that’s how that flight was described by Aviation Geek Club.
The story was surfaced this week by Habubrats, a Facebook page for the offspring of veterans of the SR-71 program. It was published in Air & Space Magazine, in 2014, which in turn was an excerpt from Richard Graham’s book “SR-71 Blackbird: Stories, Tales, and Legends" and "SR-71 Revealed: The Inside Story.”
Major Jerry Crew told the story, in that book and article, about the first-ever missile to be shot at the SR-71. It was on July 26, 1968, during the Vietnam War, and Crew and his partner were flying a sortie over North Vietnam.
“Our mission would take us over Hanoi and Haiphong. North Vietnam had been socked in for two weeks by weather. Knowing that current, up-to-the-minute intelligence was necessary to conduct the ground war added urgency to our mission,” Crew told the author.
Once in the air, they realized that a North Vietnamese Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) site was tracking them. When more lights came on in the cockpit, they knew the enemy had fired a missile, and that they would have to act very quickly.
“The ‘R’ light meant they were searching for you, the “M” light meant they were tracking you, and the “L” light meant they were launching at you.” Crew said.
The pilots knew the SA-2 missile’s total flight time was 58 seconds, and during that time, they needed to turn off their ECM jammer.
“The next 50 seconds are in dispute! I thought the whole time was spent answering Tony about the length of the missile’s flight,” Crew said. “‘How long has it been?” he asked. ‘Five seconds since the last time you asked,’ I answered. Interphone tapes show that Tony only asked four times. I do know it took much longer than the missile’s predicted flight time to convince us of our safety.”
It had actually been two missiles that were fired by the North Vietnamese, but neither struck the SR-71. And none ever would.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.