Blackbird: Higher than air;faster than fast

"Faster than a speeding bullet.Nearly higher than the air.The SR-71 Blackbird, a plane Oak Harbor's Ken Hurley test flew and helped design in the 1950s, was a marvel of spy-plane technology.Designed to fly too high and too fast for detection after Gary Francis Powers' U2 was shot down over Russia, the Blackbird rose to the occasion.At Mach 3.2, the design cruising speed for the SR-71 Blackbird, Hurley traveled at about 3,300 feet per second, or about 2,150 miles per hour.For comparison, a bullet, when fired out of an M-1 rifle, is traveling at about 2,800 per second, then immediately begins to slow down. The SR-71 Blackbird, which was about 107-feet long, had a wingspan of about 55 feet and weighed 172,000 pounds, didn't.Hurley said a way to grasp that rate of speed from a pilot's perspective would be to imagine flying over Whidbey Island and the north Seattle area in two planes, a small, prop-driven plane, then the Blackbird.If you were looking down as you passed the land below you in the small plane, Hurley said, you would orient yourself by checking off Oak Harbor, then Coupeville, then Langley.In the Blackbird, Hurley said, It would be more like Whidbey, Everett, Seattle......The plane cruised at 80,000 feet - more than twice as high as a typical commercial jet. At that height, only about 2 percent of the earth's atmosphere remained above the plane, Hurley said. Still, its three sets of cameras - an infrared system, a radar system and electromagnetic reconnaissance system were so powerful, Hurley said, that in one case a pilot and his reconnaissance systems officer were once able to record film of a golfer putting across a putting green. And track the ball."

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