Behold the cockpit of one of the finest spy planes ever built, the SR-71 Blackbird. The Blackbird, created by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works division, was a revolutionary platform for its time. Described by a former pilot as “107 feet of fire-breathing titanium,” the Blackbird’s groundbreaking construction made the spy plane unique among aircraft.
A pilot and a recon officer would take detailed photos of hundreds of thousands of miles of terrain as stealthily as they could. The incredible speed of the SR-71, as high as 2,200 mph, meant the protocol for evading enemy missiles was simply to outrun them.
To get a look at how this truly revolutionary plane worked, see a brief explainer on the cockpit we put together aided by commentary from former SR-71 pilot Richard Graham.
- National Museum of the US Air Force and Business Insider
Most of the controls explored in this graphic are relatively standard, but a few stand out. Item 12 on the list, the environmental controls, affect standard cockpit conditions like temperature but also control the temperature of the pilot’s flight suits.
Item 11 gives you an idea of just what a wild machine the Blackbird was. The SR-71’s massively powerful engines required such volatile fuel that the tanks needed to be filled with nitrogen to inert the fuel.
Therefore, in addition to flying the beast of a plane, pilots also had to understand every system of the plane and constantly monitor the gauges for irregularity.