This spectacular book is an absolute ‘must have’ for all fans of the SR-71 Blackbird or, indeed, the world of supersonic flight.  A veteran pilot on the type, the author has put an immense amount of care into this book but at no time does he shift the emphasis on to himself. The book is a celebration of American know-how and the can-do spirit of the US military and I will have to drop my guard here and say that the thing is awesome from cover to cover.

Colonel Graham spreads his gaze across so many facets of the SR-71 program through the development and prototype phase and on to further enhancements and innovations before the plane could go into service. He considers the vast range of technical aspects that made the aircraft a success and how much went in to keeping the SR-71 fleet operational.  I am not so good at technical stuff but I understand enough to know that the complexities of the aircraft were immense and that line from The Right Stuff about pushing the outside of the envelope all make sense when you see just what went into making the Blackbird happen.

Happily, this is a human book, too. Colonel Graham is at great pains to show the teamwork and brilliance of so many individuals from aircrew, ground staff and countless technicians who operated the SR-71. He makes them all count.

Naturally the book is also one for the birdwatchers because it offers a look at every aircraft built and gives details of their service. The photography is stunning – well of course it is! There are so many wonderful images it is impossible for me to pick out favourites. This is, by far and away, one of the best aviation books I have ever seen.

I never got to see an SR-71 in flight although they were no strangers to UK air space.  The example on display at Duxford is always worth a walk round. I have seen the A-12 model on the deck of the USS Intrepid in New York. If you are visiting the city, an afternoon on the old carrier is an immensely rewarding experience and there is much more than a Blackbird to enjoy. But if you are unable to tear yourself away from Christmas shopping or keeping up with celebrity dance offs or nonentities singing for their suppers on TV, then you really need to get a copy of this book.  If you love aviation you really, really need to get a copy of this book.  Have I made myself clear?

Reviewed by Mark Barnes for War History Online.


The Illustrated Profile of Every Aircraft, Crew and Breakthrough of the World’s Fastest Stealth Jet.
By Colonel Richard H Graham, USAF (Ret.)
Zenith Press
ISBN: 978-0-7603-4848-9


Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.