The SR-71 Blackbird dominated the role of spy plane for the United States for over 30 years and when it was introduced in 1966, it was drastically ahead of its time. Capable of speeds of at least Mach 3 and altitudes of at least 80,000 feet, it’s hard to imagine how one of the fastest planes ever made could ever be shot down.
The SR-71’s extreme speed and high flying altitude certainly didn’t stop the United State’s enemies from trying to take them down, and, surprisingly, the country that likely came the closest was the small nation of North Korea.
Using a Soviet made guided missile, the North Koreans caused one of the narrowest misses on an SR-71 in history.
SR-71 Pilot Maury Rosenberg was tasked with using the spy plane to make several passes of North Korea due to increased hostilities with the nation.
On the plane’s third pass over the demilitarized zone, the pilots of the SR-71 spotted a the missile quickly climbing and gaining altitude. The SR-71’s strengths are its speed and operating altitude. It is not a maneuverable aircraft compared to a fighter jet, or even a commercial aircraft.
The only thing Rosenberg could do was turn the plane slightly to the south, away from North Korea and hope for the best. Fortunately, when the plane changed course, the missile did not, and it exploded harmlessly in the upper atmosphere.
The missile was judged to be 1 – 1.5 miles from the aircraft. Sounds like a pretty safe miss, right? Well, at Mach 3, that is less than 2 seconds away from the plane. Due to the speeds of the missile and aircraft it missed by the plane by mere seconds.
Before the North Koreans could ready another shot, the extremely fast Blackbird was already well clear of North Korean airspace. The speed of the aircraft saved it from enduring another shot.