We meet all manner of people on the road and seldom find anyone that doesn’t have some curious background, hobby or interest. We see thousands of RV’s with detailed graphics painted on their vehicles lions, hawks, eagles, Harley Davidson logos and all manner of symbols of flags & patriotism.
I confess that I think it’s a bit dubious when it comes to putting American flags on everything as an expression of patriotism. I think patriotism is not that easy or simple and often times requires a much higher degree of dedication & sacrifice.
As I slow to a stop, I see that the RV in front of me has an atypical image on the back of his RV, it is rather detailed painting of an SR 71 – The Blackbird. If you have an interest in aviation and history you would know this is the worlds fastest aircraft. It was a product of every discipline of science and technology American ingenuity had to offer. This was a top secret project that was backed by the full resource of our government and also the infamous group called Skunkworks!
The owner of the RV is Bret Medbury and I had to enquire if there was any significance to the painting on the back of his vehicle. He humbly offered an explanation, “I’m an engine guy, I used to work for Pratt and Whitney….it’s the engine that I helped design.” I was aware that this type of jet engine was a radical design and that it required thinking that was far advanced from modern day understanding at that time. The air flow into the engine was extreme. The plane could fly at 80,000+ feet & at three times the speed of sound. They had to find a way to allow even and consistent airflow into an engine that was consuming gallons per second of super hybred aviation fuel.
Bret went on to tell me that he worked on this program in the early days and knew the pilot of this particular plane Bill Parks – a Lockheed Test pilot. He also knew the pilot (Ray Torrick) of the drone that was mounted atop the SR71. Pretty heady endeavors of aerospace technology in the mid 1960’s. The aim of this drone was ultimaltely the stratosphere. Its mission was understanding more about space and technology.
Rays voice lowered and he told me that he bought the RV from the pilots widow. He also told me that her husband might not have known who he was in those early days. Ray said “I’ve redone the RV and I didn’t want to erase this image”. He went on to tell me that the drone was one of the first experimental launches of its kind and that it did not go well. The drone got caught in the draft of this triple-supersonic airplane in such a way that it flipped and severed the tail off of the mothership..the SR 71 Blackbird. They were flying at 85,000 ft. and conditions at mach three make everything more tenuous. Today was a beautiful sunny day in New Mexico and he was enjoying some well deserved retirement time. I could tell in his voice that he was reliving the catastrophe and it was a heartfelt event in his life.
Those experiments tested the mettle of a nation and the people that were willing to fund such projects. They also tested the skill and daring of the men that were willing to take those risks.
As I was leaving he asked me to read the fine print below the image of the Blackbird.