January 23, 2004
The USAF SR-71 "Blackbird" is a superb example of the application of science and technology in service to the nation. The far-sighted and often heroic efforts of human systems researchers laid the foundation for life-support technologies that allowed pilots to operate in extreme environments. As a result, the SR-71, since its development in the 1960's, has taken pilots and reconnaissance systems officers to the edge of space and back while providing the nation's top decision-makers awesome capabilities in a single platform to demonstrate national power. From 80,000 feet and at Mach 3, the Blackbird reliably provided our leaders critically important national intelligence from an evolving array of the most advanced reconnaissance sensors the US science and technology community could provide. The role of the Blackbird in the 1984 MiG-21 crisis is a case study in the nation's use of intelligence. In October 1984, intelligence reported that Soviet MiG fighters were crated and being shipped on a Bulgarian freighter. Three SR-71 missions, piloted by Major General Behler, provided decision makers critical intelligence on the location of the possible MiGs while placing our Soviet and Sandinista adversaries on notice that we were watching and were willing to act to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.
Major General Robert F. Behler, USAF (Ret), is the Business Area Executive for Precision Engagement and Assistant Department Head of the Power Projection Systems Department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The general is a command pilot and experimental test pilot with more than 5,000 flying hours in 65 types of aircraft, including the SR-71 and U-2. He has flown the fastest airplane in the world and the slowest airplane in the world. Maj. Gen. Behler retired August 1, 2003 as Commander, Air Force Command and Control, and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.