After the end of Second World War, United States and USSR were engaged in a new kind of war, which we all know by the name ‘Cold War’. Both the countries were constantly increasing their Military power as well as strengthening the technological aspects.
This was the Era of Spies also. Spies from both the sides used to collect secret information from the rival side, which could provide the advantage to their country. However, most of the time, Soviets remained a step ahead when it comes to best spies. They had brilliant spies who could steal the crucial information without letting anyone know. And that was a problem for US. They had to do something in order to defeat Soviet Union.
Developing the U2 Spy Plane
Then they looked up for the side of their brilliance, in which Soviets could never match them. It was Technology. US officials came up with numerous technologies like a fighter jet that would fly so high that Soviets could not intercept them. Their objective was to collect the pictures of secret military bases of Soviets from high altitude. Therefore, one of the brilliant minds US had, Kelly Johnson came up with the idea of U2 Spy Plane. It was slow, but can fly at high altitudes. It took its first flight in 1955 and was highly successful in taking photographs of a submarine base. But it was detected by some ground stations of USSR. As a result, aircrafts were sent with weapons to chase it down.
But this is where U2 had advantage. Soviet planes can never reach up to the altitude at which U2 was flying. Therefore, U2 was extremely successful in making an escape. The US officials were celebrating their success. However, it lasted small. US intelligence officers realized that the Soviets had developed the Surface-to-air missiles that could bring the U2 down. On May 1, 1960, Soviets presented their power when they shot down a U2. This was a big blow to the intelligence of US. They had to find a solution.
SR 71 Blackbird: Terror for USSR In The Sky
As the next move, Kelly Johnson decided to put more efforts to develop another spy plane. This time, US had some different plans. They decided to travel faster than Soviets’ missiles. It was the time of an absolute beast in the sky: SR-71 Blackbird. It was decades ahead of existing technology. The first SR 71 took flight on December 22, 1964 where it recorded the incredible speed of Mach 3.4. Four years later, it took its first operational sortie where it revealed Vietnamese bases. And this was the beginning of terror of SR 71 in the sky for Soviets.
After some years, when Vietnamese tried to shot down SR 71 with the help of Soviet missiles, the plane just flew faster than their missiles. SR 71 was too fast cruising at almost 80,000 feet for the Soviet missiles. USSR was helpless and was irritated by Americans. SR 71 could literally come any time, capturing their hidden bases’ photographs and outrun their missiles.
Efforts Of USSR In The Form Of MIG-25 And MIG-31
To solve this problem, Soviet designers came up with MIG-25, which was like a rocket in the sky. It could achieve the speed of Mach 2.5. But it was not enough to chase SR 71. Moreover, its highest service ceiling was also below to that of SR 71. It did not have technology as good as SR 71. As a result, it proved to be ineffective for Soviets.
USSR doubled down their efforts and developed MIG-31. It was an improved version and was faster than MIG-25. It almost had same service ceiling as SR 71. Theoretically, it was capable of intercepting SR 71. But still, it is believed that SR 71 remained unparalleled forever. In order to successfully intercept SR 71, a MIG-31 needed several other planes with in coordination due to more advanced technology of SR 71. In the end, SR 71 was never shot down by any missile in its entire service.
Finally, after serving for over three decades, SR 71 was retired by the US Military. US decided to shift its priorities to other advanced machines like B2 bomber and UAVs. No other country has been able to develop the aircraft that could match the capabilities of SR 71. Kelly Johnson was without any doubt, one of the finest aerospace engineer who designed and built this incredible machine.