That time North Korea took a shot at a Blackbird

Winston Churchill once said there was nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at and missed. Well, one crew of the SR-71 Blackbird has an authoritative take on Churchill’s famous saying.

On Aug, 26, 1981, in the midst of major exercises in North Korea that had people worried about a possible invasion, one of these Mach 3-capable spy planes was sent to track North Korea’s forces.

The United States wanted to get intelligence about missile sites in the very secretive country, and the Blackbird was often the aircraft of choice.

The SR-71 Blackbird in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

What made the Blackbird’s Aug. 26, 1981 mission unique though, was that this time, the regime of Kim Il-Sung took a shot at the speedy plane as it made a pass over the Demilitarized Zone, known as the DMZ. The mission profile often involved multiple passes.

Maury Rosenberg and Ed McKinn were making their third pass when they saw the rising plume of a missile. Rosenberg calmly turned his plane to the right, going away from North Korea, and he and McKinn watched the missile detonate.

Thanks to the SR-71’s high speed, the aircraft and the crew escaped the hit.

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In response to the development of the the SR-71, the Soviet Union built the MiG-25 Foxbat  to counter both the spy plane and the planned B-70 Valkyrie bomber. But even the Foxbat couldn’t stop the SR-71 from going where it wanted, when it wanted.

What did stop the SR-71? Budget cuts at the end of the Cold War.

But even then, there was a five-year period where the SR-71 made a comeback in the 1990s before the accountants did what no enemy could to: force the Blackbird out of the sky.