Tension between the United States and much of the Arab world continued, and after a series of incidents, President Reagan’s patience came to a violent end. On 15 April 1986, operation Eldorado Canyon, a coordinated strike on targets in Libya, by air elements of the US Navy and
AVIATION PIONEERS: LOCKHEED’S BLACKWORLD SKUNK WORKS
Above and below Just as Senior Crown closed down, Lockheed photographer Eric Schulzinger shot for posterity a masterful series of photographs of the Habu. Here 17968 has had a Dolby X logo applied to its tail. (Eric Schulzinger)
eighteen USAF F-llls from RAF Lakenheath, was mounted. Lt Cols Jerry Glasser and Ron Tabor took off from Mildenhall as scheduled at 0500 hrs in SR-71 ‘980 (callsign Tromp 30). Their mission was to secure photographic imagery for post-strike bomb damage assessment (BDA). To achieve thus it would be necessary to overfly targets hit earlier, but this time in broad daylight and with the sophisticated Libyan defence network on full alert. Such was the importance of the mission that SR – 71 A 960 (Tromp 31) flown by Majs Brian Shul and Walt Watson, launched at 0615 hrs as an airborne spare, should Tromp 30 abort with platform or sensor problems. In the event all aircraft systems – the two chine-mounted Technical Objective Cameras (TEOCs) for spot coverage and the nose-mounted, Optical Bar Cameras (OBC) for horizon-to-horizon coverage, worked as advertised aboard the primary aircraft and ‘960 was not called upon to penetrate hostile airspace. Despite SAM launches against ‘980, the SR-71 proved yet again that it could operate W’ith impunity in such high threat environments, and at 0935 hrs Tromp 30 landed safely back at ‘the Hall’. The missions ‘take’ was processed in the Mobile Processing Centre (MPC), located within one of Mildenhall’s disused hangars. It was then transported by a KC-135 (Trout 99) to Andrews AFB, Maryland, where national-level officials were eagerly awaiting post-strike briefings.
Two further missions over Libya were conducted on both 16 and 17 April, with minor route changes and different call signs. This intense period of reconnaissance activity scored many new ‘firsts’ for Del 4: first occasion that both aircraft were airborne simultaneously; first time KC-lOs had been used to refuel SR-71s in the European theatre; first time that photos taken by the SR-71s were released to the press (although the source was never officially admitted and the image quality was purposely, severely degraded to hide true capability). All in all, the missions were a great accomplishment by the Det’s
support personnel under the command of ex SR-71 RSO, Lt Col Barn – MacKean.