SR-71: The Complete Illustrated History of the Blackbird, the World's Highest, Fastest Plane. By Col. Richard A. Graham, USAF (Ret.). Minneapolis, Minn.: Zenith Press, 2013. Maps. Tables. Diagrams. Photographs. Appendices. Glossary. Index. Pp. 192. $35.00 ISBN: 978-07603-4327-2
This is Graham's fourth book about the SR-71 Blackbird; it would be difficult to find an SR-71 crew member with better qualifications for producing such a series. A significant portion of his Air Force career was spent as a member of the SR-71 community, serving in just about every duty position associated with the airplane: pilot, instructor pilot, director of program integration at the Pentagon, and commander at both the squadron and wing levels.
In this latest work Graham tells the complete story of the SR-71--from its origins as the A-12 Oxcart program in the 1950s to its controversial retirement in the 1990s--and does so with a well-written narrative and an outstanding selection of photographs that help bring the program and its people to life.
The A-12, developed under the leadership of Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Advanced Development Projects team (better known as the Skunk Works), was designed to replace the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft. While the U-2 was effective, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) knew that advancements in Soviet surface-to-air missile (SAM) technology meant it was just a matter of time before the Soviets would be able to shoot down the U-2. The A-12, with a combination of Mach 3 cruise and an exceptionally low radar cross-section (RCS), was designed to be invulnerable to SAM attack. The low RCS would make it exceptionally difficult for Soviet radars to detect and track the airplane. And if a SAM were launched against the airplane, its speed would enable it to outrun the incoming missile.
Graham describes how the A-12 was developed and tested and explains how increasing performance requirements caused it to evolve into what became the SR-71. The book also describes the procedures for crew selection and training; how SR-71 operational concepts and basing were developed; and, in great detail, what an operational mission looked like from start to finish. In all cases the text provides a clear understanding of the subject matter...