SR-71 Blackbird 
SR-71 Blackbird

I recently went to the Air Force Armament Museum in Fort Walton, FL. It's definitely worth checking out if you are ever in the neighborhood. It's completely free, though I recommend giving a donation.

The coolest thing at the museum is definitely the retired SR-71 Blackbird on display out in front of the museum. Here is a pic I borrowed from an article about the museum:

It was cool to actually be able to get so close to the plane. One thing that was interesting is just how light the materials were. It felt very hollow away from leading edges. It even seemed a bit fragile and would probably easily dent. I guess if nothing can catch you, it doesn't matter if you're fragile. :)

Also, the heat expansion joints were quite prominent. I've often heard how the Blackbird leaked fuel through the joints until the skin heats up from supersonic flight and seals tight. The joint separation was smaller closer to the center of the plane and progressively got larger out towards the wings. I guess the heat makes the plane bow outwards.

The other interesting thing is that there are actually quite a lot of seams, welds, and ripples in the skin. It's not perfectly smooth like an expensive sports car. That matte black paint really gives the impression of being perfectly smooth in the press photos though. I guess those small imperfections don't have any significant affect on the plane at Mach 3+.

Here is a recent story from a real SR-71 pilot on Gizmodo. It's actually an excerpt from a book. Be sure to read the story about the speed check from an air traffic controller.

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