Could the modern US aerospace industry build an aircraft today that is as ambitious as the A-12 Oxcart/SR-71 was for its time? Could the industry build an aircraft today that could beat the performance of the CIA's Oxcart and the Air Force's Blackbird?
If you ask the people who built it, I think they would probably say no.
The Air & Space Museum held such a discussion on 24 September, which was unfortunately sold-out before I could buy a ticket. But the museum kindly posted a nearly 90-minute video of the panel yesterday. The panel includes original members of the Oxcart development teams from Lockheed's Skunk Works and Pratt & Whitney. Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich are no longer alive, but their subordinates tell some good stories.
Former Skunk Works manufacturing director Bob Murphy says 100 engineers were assigned to the SR-71 program. Rockwell hired 5,000 engineers to design the B-1 bomber. "I don't know how you coordinate 5,000 engineers," Murphy grumbles. Pratt & Whitney J58 engineer
"Today there are layers and layers of oversight committees. In those days I could walk into Bill Brown's office and he'd pick up the phone and call Kelly. And there wasn't any of this -- more or less, the Air Force let Kelly Johnson and Bill Brown build the U-2, which they did, and then they built the Blackbird together as partners without the oversight that we have today."