A tail rudder from the fastest airplane in the world could be yours — for a cool $1 million. The seller didn't say if it was a spare part, or if it was once part of a functioning SR-71 Blackbird, which is an important distinction given the cost.
When it debuted in 1964, the SR-71 Blackbird — the mean looking surveillance aircraft that cruised high above the Soviet Union at speeds of up to mach 3.5 — cost the U.S. Air Force $34 million per air frame. Do you think this fraction of a supersonic spy plane is worth a fraction of its original cost?
The eBay ad is scant on details, but it doesn't look like the seller, stevessupercoolstuff, has much experience selling aircraft parts. The bulk of his business appears to be lighted crochet hooks, with a smattering of other goodies including a Lyrics of John Lennon book, a W.C. Fields Super 8 comedy film, and a Dwight D. Eisenhower commemorative medal, among other trinkets. But none of the Steve's other merchandise is plastered with that cool 3-foot-tall Lockheed Martin Skunkworks logo.
But whether or not you think the price is right, this orphaned rudder is a window into a different time, a period in American history when the Cold War was at its height and muscle cars were the way to get around. It's fitting then that Lockheed Martin would have designed a spy plane whose defense mechanism was pure speed. It's aviation's equivalent of the Pontiac GTO — an airframe designed around two massive engines. If the Soviets lobbed an anti-aircraft missile at one, the Blackbird's pilot could simply out accelerate it.
And the strategy worked. Not one of the 32 SR-71s built in the mid-60s succumbed to enemy fire. That didn't stop the odd training mishap, though. Between 1966 and 1972, 12 were destroyed in crashes — with one pilot fatality in 1966. The last one went down in the South China Sea in 1989 after its left engine blew up and damaged the plane's flight controls. Its crew was rescued by a native fishing boat.
Compared to the embarrassment President Eisenhower suffered when the previous generation spy plane — the U2, basically a high altitude glider equipped with cameras — crash landed in Russia in 1960, the SR-71 was a stunning success. General Curtis LeMay, of "We should bomb Vietnam back into the stoneage" fame, didn't want another Francis Gary Powers-style imbroglio (in other words, military brass couldn't trust the pilots to eat their cyanide tablets like good boys when they were shot down by the commies, they needed to rely upon good technology and gutsy flying).
The SR-71's development also spurred interesting innovations in everything from flight suit and ejection seat design to engine technology. The Blackbird is essentially a terrestrial spaceship, designed to fly at 80,000 feet above sea level — not quite outer space, but close to it. When parked on the tarmac, the SR-71 leaked fuel because it was designed to be leak free at altitude. Its pilots wore fully pressurized suits that could withstand the pressure of ejecting at speeds exceeding 2,100 mph. In 1976, Capt. Eldon W. Joersz and Maj. George T. Morgan set the speed record for normally aspirated aircraft (i.e. planes that weren't rocket-powered), hitting a blistering mach 3.5.
So if you're into muscle cars, Cold War memorabilia or just need a cool wall hanger in your living room — and have $1 million to part with — maybe you can grab this piece of aviation history.