Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Staggering Real Cost Of The Blackbird SR-71

We stipulate that the Blackbird program was the nuclear powered plane Kelly Johnson was working on in the 1950's and Project Pluto was the cover for the development of Blackbirds engines. We have concluded furthermore that the procurement budget of Blackbird was funded by NASA's Apollo program. 

This is how much the plane cost just to develop and procure. This does not include how much it cost to operate the plane. It is an outrage when you think about it. I use the CPI, Gold and Silver as indicators of inflation. In the early 60's, gold was pegged to the dollar at 35 dollars per ounce. Silver up until 1964 was what all American money could be redeemed for at any bank or store. Silver is what our coinage consisted of and each paper dollar could be exchanged for a silver coin that contained .77 of a troy ounce silver. The CPI does not include silver or gold in its estimate of inflation. I average the three of them to come up with a more reasonable estimate of inflation. 

$600,000,000 for P&W to develop the engine (Rich & Janos, 207)
$700,000,000 Project Pluto Development (Dewar 65)
$5,000,000,000 to build 240 ramjets (Dewar 65)
$8,000,000,000 for an operational wing. (Dewar 65)
$18,000,000 to develop the inlet (Rich & Janos, 211)
$161,000,000 for Lockheed to develop airframe (Rich & Janos, 227)
$1,088,000,000 to purchase 32 airframes
$867,607,000 for ANP development 1956 to 1961. 

Total $16,434,607,000
Cost per plane (A-12) 1,264,200,538.46 in 1961 Dollars, assuming that the initial thirteen A-12's constitute an operational wing. Assuming again that the 32 SR-71's constituted an another two and half operational wings then the total for the A-12 and SR-71 is
$36,126,914,692.30. This does not include the M-21 and YF-12A programs.
$134,940,000,000 Program Total 
$4,300,000,000 Per Plane CPI Inflation Adjusted Dollars
$7,053,533,987.5 Cost Per Plane in Silver Inflation Adjusted Dollars. 
$19,764,715,982.14 Cost Per Plane Gold Inflation Adjusted Dollars. 
$10,372,749,989.83 Cost Per Plane Averaging the CPI, Silver and Gold Inflation Adjusted Dollars. 

The Blackbird, in CPI adjusted dollars, was a Billion Dollar Plane! The F-22 Raptor's 339 million dollar price tag seems almost reasonable in comparison to the 1960's $513,581,468.75 cost of the Blackbird.

$518,968,750 Blackbird was more expensive to build than the nuclear aircraft carrier Enterprise. Which cost 451 million dollars to build. So, a single Blackbird cost 14% more than CVN Enterprise.

In CPI inflation adjusted dollars the Blackbird was over ten times the price of the Raptor. The Blackbird's successor the Aurora must have had a staggering price tag as well. 

Update 17 January 2016
I found some information on the cost of the ANP and PLUTO programs reading James Dewar's book TO THE END OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM. Using this information I have updated the totals. 

I believe that the cancellation of the Project PLUTO program, on the day of Kennedy's death, had something to do with the assassination of JFK. He was set to go after the contractors that worked on the ANP. They were looking at prison time. The Blackbird, if it had been used as planned as a bomber, would have changed the game in Vietnam as well. It is unlikely there would have been a Hanoi Hilton full of American pilots, if A-12's were doing the bulk of the bombing. The price of the Blackbird program was on par with that of the Apollo program, which was also a cover for a military program. A single Blackbird cost more than the yearly defense budget for the whole of the 1960's. The Space race was in reality a race to maintain preemptive strike superiority. Throughout the 1950's the U.S. maintained a program of "overflight" of the Soviet , utilizing Canberra bombers and U-2's. Ostensibly this program was "reconnaissance" in reality it was a psychological warfare campaign to show the Soviets that America could bomb them with impunity.  

Project PLUTO was the cover for the development of the Blackbird.


Dewar, James A. To the End of the Solar System: The Story of the Nuclear Rocket. Lexington, Ky.: U of Kentucky, 2004. Print.

Pluto 700 Million and $5 Billion [1961 dollars] for 240 ramjets Dewar 65.

14 September 2018 Addition 

Project PLUTO was the cover for the development of the Blackbird. 


13 February 2019

Extrapolating from these numbers and applying them to the 6 initial planes procured by the Air Force gives us a more startling result. The first initial planes cost $670,000,000 per plane. The first mover cost of the first six planes was truly staggering. It is no wonder Kennedy wanted to kill the plane. The per unit cost of the six initial planes cost 50% more than the first Nimitz class nuclear carrier.  

After work was completed on the U-2 in 1955, work began on it's successor. This plane would become the SR-71. The budget for the ANP more than doubles in this time. It jumps from $44,791,00 to $91,180,000 in the period 1955 to 1956. 83% of the money $867,607,000 spent during the fifteen years of the NEPA/ANP was spent in the last six years of the program, right in step with the development of the SR-71. 

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