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last modified December 13, 2016

"Blackbird" (Lockheed Films, 1987)

aka "Blackbird - The Movie"

Thank god Lockheed and the USAF had the foresight to make this 40-minute film, so that our children will know what this plane looked like when it was alive. There are no actors (and no plot, but let's not go there); Lockheed made the entire film using the people who worked on the plane. See the crews suit up. See the airplane pre-flighted; watch it taxi and take off, rendesvous with the tanker, and land. The plot is tedious (although nothing like "Iron Eagle") but the photography and production are top-notch. If you've seen any of the several "Wings" videos on the Discovery channel, chances are the footage you saw was from this 1987 film.

Some editions also include "Letter to Kelly Johnson," a short but extremely moving open letter not so much to Kelly Johnson, but to all fans of blackbirds everywhere, from one of the cameramen (Devin Hawker) who worked on "Blackbird - The Movie."

"Kelly's Way" (Flight Test Historical Foundation, 1992)

A beautifully produced documentary on the career of Kelly Johnson. Almost the entire 58-minute video is narrated, with an occasional film or audio clip of Johnson speaking. The two things that make this video so good are its down-to-earth, no-exaggeration-necessary telling of the facts as they occured, and its top-notch historical video, most of it in color and not the same shots you always see on the Learning/Discovery/History Channel. The producers worked with Lockheed's Skunkworks to get first-generation prints to transfer to video, and the quality shows through.

"Salute to Kelly Johnson" (Lockheed Films)
This film was made by Lockheed films as a tribute to the former head of the Skunk Works when he retired in January 1975.  There are interviews with Kelly, as well as many of the people he worked with on projects ranging from the XP-80 to the YF-12 and SR-71.  The film also includes footage of these aircraft, including Kelly's ride in 927.

"SR-71 Blackbird - The Secret Vigil"

Originally an episode of "Wings" on the Discovery channel, this 45-minute film from Aviation Week Video is a good overview of the SR-71 program.  Includes video interviews with SR-71 crews (both current and "old school"), Pentagon and 9th SRW officials, Lockheed people (including both the late Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich), but most notably Viktor Belenko, former Soviet pilot who defected to the US by flying his Mig-25 Foxbat to a base in Japan.  His recollections of the blackbird as seen from the other side steal the show.  Most of the flying footage is stock from the National Archives and from Lockheed's 1987 film "Blackbird" (see above).

This title is now available on DVD (available here among other places).

"SR-71 Flight Test Memories"

Subtitled "In-Flight Home Video of the World's Fastest Airplane Up Close and Personal," that's exactly what this video is.  These are home movies of 955 and 972, taken by LtCol Bill "Flaps" Flanagan at Site 42 in Palmdale during 1984 and 1985.  The video was shot with a home VHS camera, so if you're expecting a professionally-shot film like Lockheed's "Blackbird", then you'll be disappointed.  You'll also be missing the point.  These are home movies, which gives them an air of reality and authenticity that no staged production ever could.  Given that the fleet is permanently grounded, any video of these aircraft while they were still flown should be cherished. Available at www.afftcmuseum.org.

"SR-71: From SAC to NASA - Secrets Revealed" (CAV Video Productions)

Essentially this is the same video as "Blackbird" (see top of page).  The producers of this video have sandwiched that video between some original video of NASA's LASRE program experiments.  The LASRE footage is decent, but can't compare to Devin Hawker's "Letter to Kelly Johnson."

"Supersonics (Just Jets - All Audio)" - produced by Aircraft Records

The producers of this audio CD spent a day at Edwards Air Force Base recording the sounds of various aircraft, including the A-10, F-117A, C-5, F-15, F-16, and of course the SR-71.  Extra emphasis is made on the blackbird, as there are recordings of the engine start, taxi/takeoff, and sonic booms.  A 20-minute interview with NASA pilot Rogers Smith concludes the CD.

The recordings themselves are high quality, but without visual clues it sounds more or less like a day at the airport.  This CD would make a good souvenier after attending an airshow.

Available at the Discovery Channel Store.

ISBN: 9900810082

"Wonderful World of Flying, v6 n23" - produced by Aviation Media

From the long line of well-produced and highly respected videos in this series, you'd expect a good treatment of the SR-71.  You won't be disappointed.  For 15 minutes, Capt. Barry Schiff takes the viewer on a walk-around of 971, pointing out the unique aspects of the plane.  Unlike so many documentaries out there, Schiff gets all of his facts straight and doesn't embellish or exaggerate anything.  He also does a very good job of simulating a check ride in the B-model, and to his credit he confesses to the ruse well before the end of the segment.  Also includes beautiful shots of the B-model being pre-flighted (complete with cycling the inlet spikes in and out!!), engine start, takeoff, some nice in-flight footage, and a beautiful landing sequence showing complete chute deployment and release.  Well done.

Available from Aviation Media (http://www.wwof.com/home.html)

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