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    Chasing the Legendary SR-71 Blackbird During the Vietnam War: An F-4 Phantom’s Radar Failure

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    In military aviation history, few planes have fascinated as much as the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

    The SR-71, an engineering marvel, still boasts the title of the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft, even decades post its retirement.

    Equally noteworthy in its era was the F-4 Phantom, a versatile fighter-bomber that set many records.

    McDonnell F-4 Phantom II” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    This remarkable incident occurred during the Vietnam War, when a US Navy F-4 pilot, Jerry Hart, and his Radar Intercept Officer were flying a Barrier Combat Air Patrol (BARCAP) mission over the Gulf of Tonkin.

    They received a notification from “Red Crown,” the callsign for a support cruiser, about a friendly aircraft approaching from the north.

    SR-71 Blackbird at Strategic Air and Space Museum, Omaha” by Asten is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    This “friendly” was none other than an SR-71 exiting Chinese airspace over Hainan Island.

    SR-71” by Sean Munson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Eager to catch a glimpse or perhaps even lock onto the SR-71, Hart maneuvered his F-4 in anticipation. As the Phantom’s radar antenna tilted upward to its maximum, a fleeting contact was made.

    Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird” by Francisco Antunes is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The radar scope’s velocity circle spun wildly before the screen succumbed to darkness, overwhelmed by the SR-71’s extreme speed, which was far beyond anything the F-4’s radar could handle.

    SR-71 2” by ndrwfgg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Hart’s recounting of his radar going “completely black” was a testament to the Blackbird’s incredible performance.

    Beale AFB SR-71 1985” by StuSeeger is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The SR-71, designed by the visionary Clarence “Kelly” Johnson and his Skunk Works team, first took to the skies in December 1964.

    Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: SR-71 Blackbird and Space Shuttle Enterprise in the distance” by Chris Devers is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    It reached unmatched speeds, with test pilot Jim Eastham pushing it to Mach 3.56 during a dive. The aircraft’s retirement in the late ’90s by the U.S. Air Force and NASA has done nothing to diminish its legend.

    Speyer – Technikmuseum Speyer – McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II 02” by Daniel Mennerich is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Meanwhile, the F-4 Phantom, despite being a record-setter in its own right with 16 world speed and altitude records.

    1966 Air Force Jet Refueling While Flying – Phantom F-4C tiếp nhiên liệu trên không” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The contrast between these two aircraft is striking in retrospect. The F-4, is known for its size and power, with a top speed of Mach 2.23.

    Berlin – Militärhistorisches Museum Flugplatz Berlin-Gatow – McDonnell F-4 Phantom II 01” by Daniel Mennerich is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    It saw extensive use during the Vietnam War and beyond until its retirement in 1996, although some are still in service elsewhere.

    SR-71 Fairford” by Rob Schleiffert is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The SR-71, in contrast, was a product of advanced design and materials, including its heat-resistant titanium skin.

    Relevant articles:
    Why An F-4 Phantom Tried To ‘Catch’ An SR-71 Blackbird Spy Plane, The National Interest, Dec 27, 2023
    JA-37 Viggen: The Only Foreign Jet to Ever ‘Catch’ the SR-71 Blackbird, nationalinterest.org
    Air & Space Forces Magazine, Air & Space Forces Magazine
    Could a Mig 25 or 31 Shoot Down an SR-71?, thesr71blackbird.com

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