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Declassified: Toronto's connection to the SR-71

August 22, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
When TIMET celebrated 50 years of work in Toronto a few years back, there was a lot of talk about the time when the plant first opened, in the 1950s.

It was a kind of top-secret sort of place, where something wonderful with some new wonder-metal was going to be done, but if the plant’s new leaders told you, they’d have to, well, you know.

What they were making was the ultralight, ultra-strong uber-metal for aviation, weapons systems and more, and it was all kinds of important to the beginnings of the Jet Age in military aviation in the U.S.

And the era of Spy Planes.

Declassified last weekend with fewer redactions than ever before, a report about the development and use of the U-2 and the SR-71 (and it’s really not often discussed CIA variant, the A-12) mentions specifically Titanium Metals Corp. in it. (Page 280. The report says there were troubles with the supply until Titanium's managers learned exact reasons and specs, and then the supply problems ended. Just tell them what you want and they do it. The workers still say that there today.)

There are tales on the Internet about the CIA making arrangements to buy extra titanium from the Russians at some point, but I haven't stumbled across any reference in the thick U-2/SR-71/A-12 report.

Specifically, it talks about getting titanium to build the A-12, and it mentions Timet and how it met the specs after better information was given.

So, what you’ve maybe long suspected you now know. My little Toronto played a big role in the Cold War and all those SR-71s that sit menacingly in museums just might have metal in them that once passed through the hands of your friends and family.

Now how cool is that?

I said it once this week and I’ll say it again.

If you love American aviation at all, if you’re a history buff, a Cold War buff or ever were remotely interested in such stuff, go to the National Security Archive website and read the report, “The Secret History of the U-2.” (More on the National Security Archive next time. Really, really cool, and glad to have now actually looked at it. I’ll be reading a whole lot more.)

It ties together a whole lot of dots, including, possibly, a time when I was a little kid and the sky went KABOOOOM over breakfast. There was some report later in the day about some fast fighter plane making some kind of record run. I now wonder if it was an SR-71 on something far more secretive, or if it was the record run taken over the U.S. in 1966 mentioned in the report. (Strikes me that I was about four or so, but it might have been later.)

Conspiracy theorists will say the government only tells us what they want us to know. That’s true. But at last they decided to let us know some of this stuff.

I figure the SR-71 did a whole lot more than was mentioned in the book, and someday we’ll know all of that too.

It was the pre-drone, pre-satellite era when these planes were built, and they are amazing devices, especially considering that 1. They were a government project. 2. They actually did their job. 3. There were no supercomputers or CAD/CAM doing the heavy lifting in design. 4. Cover stories for the few times the SR-71 was revealed before it really, really was shown to the world, actually stuck. 5. It did not take committees, hearings, a lot of across-the-aisle yelling or much of what passes for government today to make these planes happen. The CIA wanted them. The designers could figure out ways to design planes to fit the mission. The engineers, working right next to the planes, would make the changes. The test pilots flew. Stuff didn’t go up and down the corporate and government food chain 600 times before a decision was made.

A heady time it was for the U .S., indeed. And Toronto was right in the thick of it.


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Blog Photos

A NASA photo of one of the agency's SR-71 research planes. Imposing. Fast. And made out of Toronto titanium. Cool, eh?


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