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North Vietnamese Air Defenses hit 2 Blackbird Mach 3 spy planes

by Till Daisd
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How close did a Blackbird Mach 3 spy plane ever come to being shot down?

The famed spy plane SR-71 Blackbird is renowned for holding the official record for the fastest jet-powered, piloted aircraft in history. The SR-71 was based on the A-12 Oxcart, another Mach 3 high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft.

Developed from the A-12, the YF-12 high-altitude, Mach 3 interceptor was another Blackbird designed to fight off supersonic bombers. The YF-12 was never used as an operational aircraft by the military. However, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane was also inspired by the YF-12.

A-12 Mach 3 spy plane

The SR-71 Blackbird is the only reconnaissance aircraft in history to have operated in more hostile airspace and with such complete impunity, and it is the fastest aircraft propelled by air-breathing engines. The Blackbird represented the highest point in aviation technology development during the Cold War due to its performance and operational achievements.

One of the most common questions regarding the Blackbird family is whether or not it has ever been struck by an enemy plane while on a spy mission.

‘There are all sorts of people out there that claim to know everything about the Blackbirds,’ says Jim Goodall, former Master Sergeant at U.S. Air Force and author of the book Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird: The Illustrated History of America’s Legendary Mach 3 Spy Plane. ‘The information I have collected from the pilots and crews that flew and maintained these incredible Blackbirds [are quite interesting].

SA-2 in Vietnamese service

‘To my knowledge, only one Blackbird, a CIA A-12 Blackbird was hit with shrapnel on Oct. 30, 1967, while on the CIA’s third pass over Hanoi in three days. The crews protested flying the same route three days in a row, but they were out-ranked.

‘Denny Sullivan [Dennis B. Sullivan retired as an Air Force Brigadier General and passed away in 2020. Sullivan was one of only 6 A-12 mission pilots, known as “Drivers”, his call sign was Dutch 23] who ran into some debris from part of the fusing components of a Soviet-built SA-2 as he was leaving the area [over Vietnam, during Operation Black Shield (as the A-12 deployment at Kadena Air Base was codenamed), where he survived multiple SAM missile attacks on his Oxcar while he was cruising at altitudes over 82,000 feet]. The damage was found on a post-flight inspection and the composite inboard leading edge had something wedged in it, and the CIA identified it as part of the fusing mechanism of the SA-2.’

The story of Sullivan A-12 being damaged by SAM’s debris is confirmed by the article Black Shield appeared in Air & Space Forces Magazine, which says: “On another October flight, pilot Dennis Sullivan detected radar tracking on his first pass over North Vietnam. Two sites prepared to launch missiles, but neither did. During the second pass, however, at least six missiles were fired at Sullivan’s aircraft, each confirmed on mission photos by missile vapor trails. Sullivan saw these vapor trails and witnessed three missile detonations. Postflight inspection of the aircraft revealed that a piece of metal had penetrated the lower right wing fillet area and lodged against the support structure of the wing tank. The fragment was not a warhead pellet but may have been a part of the debris from one of the missile detonations observed by the pilot.”

Goodall concludes;

‘The Israeli military tried to shoot one down during the ’73 War’ but couldn’t. If they couldn’t, then no one could.’

Photo by Dru Blair via www.drublair.com, U.S. Air Force, CIA and Hoangprs5 Own work via Wikipedia

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