Neil Armstrong’s passing is naturally causing a lot of reminiscing about America’s once-vaunted technological edge during the Cold War. Perhaps the height of our power was embodied in our aerospace triumphs (no pun intended). While NASA and the astronauts grabbed much of the spotlight, Lockheed’s U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes are one of the great stories of scientific achievement. The Blackbird entered service in 1966, just four years after Lockheed and the U.S. government signed a contract, and was killed by Bush 41′s administration in 1990. It flew at Mach 3, over 2,000 miles per hour, and still hold records for highest altitude reached by an airplane (85,000 feet) and absolute speed (2,193 mph). The video below not only shows how amazing the plane was, but also reveals how America could do it with pizzazz back in the day: The Blackbird, designed to spy on Russia, was built almost entirely from titanium, and to obtain the large amount needed, the CIA set up a dummy company to buy the metal from . . . the Soviet Union.
We carry on the tradition a bit today, by buying rare-earth elements from China, many of which we use in “lasers, radar, missile-guidance systems, satellites and aircraft electronics.” Yet not quite as direct and flashy as building the SR-71 out of Russkie metal.