We at New Source Corp love airplanes not just because we work with some of the top plane making companies like Lockheed, Martin, and Boeing; but because we work daily with the raw materials that make those planes possible such as titanium and aluminum. So when Tommy Lee Jones talked about an airplane in Space Cowboys that he said:
“on the ground it’s ugly as hell and leaks like a sieve, but you get it up to Mach 1, and it’s sealed up, leans into the wind, and flies like a bat outta Hell.”
We were obviously intrigued when new data was just released about a plane most people knew very little about that seems to match Tommy Lee Jones’s description very well. Although, no offense to Mr. Jones, we think this plane is rather spectacular both on the ground and in the sky.
What plane is he referring to?
The plane is the Blackbird SR – 71. This amazing plane was built by Lockheed Martin back in 1964 completely from scratch, making an entirely new design matching nothing else that was seen on the air or on the ground. That design has been shown to set a running standard for plane manufacturing ever since, because Lockheed did not spare any expense:
- When other planes were using radar and mapping, Lockheed hired Northrop to take the navigation system from a missile that used the stars to correct navigational errors and upgrade it to be used as the primary navigational system by giving it the ability to see the stars 24 hours a day through the crystal cockpit, all the data on about 60 stars around the world, then aligning the plane to its position in relation to those stars, creating one of the most advanced navigational tools that could do much more than find its way on a map.
- When other planes were designed to fly while on the ground, Lockheed designed the blackbirds to be better suited in the air where the metals were expected to heat up causing them to expand and seal and the engines were designed to move the fuel in a motion that would be best suited for speeds of up to Mach 3
- When other plane manufactures were avoiding titanium due to its high cost, Lockheed used a titanium alloy for almost 90% if the plane’s body. This caused special tools to be required with distilled water while welding, which was a bit more difficult to come by then than it is today, and the alloy had to be precise causing a huge contamination problem with the manufacturing of the titanium.
- When other planes were using rubber, Lockheed had to go to B. F. Goodwrench to get aluminum tires filled with nitrogen that cost almost $2500 and only allowed the Blackbird to land 20 times before they needed to be replaced, even with a parachute to help slow it down first.
- Finally a flight suit that was no longer just a mask but a full-body pressurized flight suit had to be created to protect the pilots going at such high speeds, against high temperatures, and in low oxygen spaces, especially if they needed to eject. These may have given rise to the first “halo suits”
So what did Mr. Jones mean by his quote?
The plane’s frame was slightly ridged, had spaces between its panels, and leaked fuel while it was on the ground, but once it reached Mach 1 in the sky, the heat caused the panels to heat up and expand, flattening them out and sealing them up, while the wind caused the fuel to flow in the proper direction within the engines to make them more fuel efficient and, overall, better engines to fly faster.