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Luna USA Field Trip: SR-71 in person – an era, a plane, a team

By May 25, 2012 No Comments

For the last month I (ND) have been in the USA, on a trip anchored around the LSSC12 conference in Boston, presenting on the kanban dimensions of Lonely Planet’s lawyers in Melbourne. A secondary purpose of the trip was to practice a little genchi genbutsu – going ‘to the place of the work’.

Work in our case, being some legendary examples we teach from the history of great agile and lean work practices.

Our admiration for Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks aircraft design team in the 1940s and beyond, and their contribution to a way of working we now know as agile and lean, has been written about before on this blog, and spoken about at length by James and me at conferences like YOW! in 2011.

It is one thing to watch countless videos, read books, articles and blog entries, and admire amazing photographs. It is another thing entirely to come face to face with a Blackbird SR-71. And on this trip, I have seen two.

The first (pictured above) is stored on the deck of the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier docked in Manhattan. I was so awed to get up close, I wore a tie!

Standing beside this amazing work of engineering, it is a shock to see how big it is. It is an old plane, having seen active duty, and this exact plane is the current speed record holder for jet aircraft – around 3,000 km/h. That speed is not surprising, as the Blackbird basically amounts to a pencil jammed between two of the most enormous jet engines imaginable.

The second is at the Stephen Udvar-Hazy hangar of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Dulles, Virginia. Not subject to the outdoor air and pollution of a city, this plane is more pristine.

It was delivered from LA to Washington in 1 hour 4 minutes, setting a record of its own for the fastest crossing of the USA by a jet aircraft. To put that in perspective, the flight I am writing this blog post on will take 6+ hours to do the same journey.

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