Daily Archives: September 18, 2012

Bye, Bye, Blackbird

I watched the most fascinating hour on The History Channel (one of my favorite stops on the dial) very early last Saturday morning.

And I ended up in awe.

And pissed.

Really, really, really pissed.

And sad, too.

It was the story of the “Blackbird”, the United States’ revolutionary, amazing, mind-boggling feat of engineering – the SR-71 reconnaissance (spy) plane that debuted in the early 1960’s.

She’s a sexy beast, ain’t she?

It flew at speeds greater than mach 3, and at altitudes reaching 80,000 feet.

And it was the brainchild of the amazing Kelly Johnson, just a kid from Ishpeming (don’t you just love that name?) Michigan, who took many challenges on, and is probably best known for his Blackbird.  

With slide rules, protractors, lots of pencils and many erasers, Mr. Johnson and his team set about meeting the challenge of creating an aircraft that left virtually no radar ‘footprint’ and could fly so fast that by the time a SAM (surface-to-air-missile) was loaded and launched the airplane was already way past the target area. The Blackbird could gather recon images so amazingly clear that individual license plates on vehicle were easily read….from 80,000 feet at over 1,000 miles per hour

Let that soak in for a minute.

I could go into the details of the SR-71, but that’s not what this rant is about.

I wanna know, dammit, where the hell are all the geniuses?  The people who could go out into the wilderness with a pocket knife and build a shopping mall, or sit at a conference table with other geniuses and design an over-the-top spy plane.

Those types.

Where.Did.They.Go?

That’s what I kept thinking as I watched the special.

Where are all the smart people?

Granted, there are some and innovations are still being made.

But, it seems nowadays they’re geared towards the individual and less for the greater good.

The iPhone 5 was just announced, and so what?  Will it make us safer?  Will it take pictures at 80,000 feet, traveling at over 1,000 miles per hour?

No, it’ll just make Angry Birds work faster on a larger screen.

Tesla, Edison, Einstein, Shelby, Wright, Carrier, Ford, Goddard, Sikorsky, and Cousteau – to name a few – were all brilliant minds of the 20th century and they gave us everything from practical applications of electricity to the first scuba gear.

In the 21st century?  We have a birth control patch, the glorified scooter called a ‘Segway’ – remember that hype? – and a log for your fireplace made from coffee grounds.

You see how we’ve gone from greater good to individual gratification?

What has happened to us?

And by ‘us’ I mean collectively, as a race, what has happened to humans? 

Are we lazy? Complacent? Self-centered?

I submit we are all of the above.

We can’t turn back the clock, but if we could I’d outlaw the personal computer.

It’s a pet peeve of mine, and even as I use one every day I’ll take a good book or a History Channel documentary on an amazing airplane, over the automated machine that is useful as a tool and Lord, please save me from the day it ever becomes my master.

And, yes, the irony that I’m a self-centered blogger bent on sharing my every thought with the world via a personal computer is not lost on me for a moment.

I said I use the tools, I didn’t say I liked using them.

I’d also like to believe there are smart people out there, who never read a blog and instead are wondering around the wilderness, pocketknife in hand, scouting a good place to build a shopping mall.