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The SR-71 was, however, spectacularly effective in its designed role, Mike Plunkett explains:

* Speed and altitude *are* good defences - the SR-71 operated at altitudes in excess of 80,000 feet and speeds greater than Mach 3 for over thirty years. Despite being shot at on many occasions no Blackbird was ever lost to enemy action. Of course the SR-71 did have a degree of stealth built into it, but the speed and altitude that the aircraft flew at meant that the window available for a successful engagement is very small. Even with modern SAM systems such as the SA-10, SA-12, SA-20 or S-400, a high flying, very fast aircraft has a pretty good chance of surviving.

* I believe that the generally accepted version of what brought Gary Powers' flight to an end is that the U-2 was hit by the shockwave/debris from a Soviet fighter that was hit by one of their own SAMs. A few years back I was lucky enough to meet a chap called Alan Brown, who was the chief designer for the F-117. He had been involved in low observable research at Lockheed Martin since the fifties, and described how U-2 pilots knew that the Soviet radars were detecting them, and would watch the MiGs trying to intercept them and generally failing to get within 10,000ft of the American aircraft. The boffins at Lockheed came up with a cunning device called a Salisbury Screen (which basically consists of a wire running around the straight edges of the aircraft, separated from the airframe by - if I remember correctly - 1/4 of the radar wavelength its designed to defeat). This, they assured the pilots, would make them virtually undetectable to Soviet surveillance radars, but would come at the price of removing approximately 10,000ft from the U-2's maximum altitude. The pilots turned them down, deciding they'd rather be invulnerable than invisible.

* Despite coming across as something of a curmudgeon (let's face it, we'd all like this story to be true!) Jeffery Bell does make some interesting points, particularly regarding the idea that this is disinformation. There is a precedent for this with the Stealth Fighter. For years this was assumed to be the 'F-19' and be a curvy, bell-shaped aircraft, and was even backed up by supposed eye-witness reports of just such an aircraft but of course never any photos. Assuming that Blackstar is such a disinformation campaign it begs the question - what for?

* The US has a history of successfully developing and operating advanced aircraft in complete secrecy (witness the U-2, SR-71 and F-117) until such time as they decide they wish to make them public. A few months back I watched a documentary on US 'Black' programmes in which an individual who claimed to have been a personal friend of the late Ben Rich (a director of Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works) said that just prior to his death Rich had told him, "We have things flying now fifty years beyond anything you can imagine." If (big if!) that claim is true then Blackstar could just be the tip of the iceberg. It's also worth noting that the USAF budget for black programmes is absolutely enourmous, amounting to 40% of its procurement spend and 36% of its R&D - a total of over $31 billion in the FY07 budget (see "Black Programmes: Funding the Void" by Bill Sweetman in Janes Defence Weekly, 5th April 2006).

All in all this sort of thing is absolutely fascinating and I doubt we'll ever know even a fraction of the truth. All the same, I really hope that the Aviation Week article is true! :-)


Whether Blackstar itself exists or not (I'm a bit doubtful too), the facts about Gary Powers's shootdown are rather less muddled. He was flying a route that had been used before, and so when he appeared at Ekaterinberg the Soviet's fired a large salvo of SAM's along what they correctly assumed to be his path. Immunity to SAM attack was largely dependent on the inability of the SA2 SAM to use it's aerodynamic control surfaces at 70000 ft, but this didn't apply as a limitation in this case.

Regarding the B70, recieved wisdom that is was hopelessly vunerable to SAM and Mig25 attack was proved otherwise after the US flew the SR71 against the SA5 in Syria and North Korea and got a look at Viktor Bylenko's Mig25 in Japan in 1975. The chances are that whatever it's other faults, it would have been operationally effective.

Rupert


Complete change of tack now, with a couple of comments on news that text to speech is getting closer to the real thing:

Text to Speech engines may indeed be getting more emotional, but it's worth noting that in Professor Hawking's case, his emotionless 'old-fashioned' voice is kept that way by preference, not through lack of choice. He could 'upgrade' his voice but chooses not to as it's HIS voice - people are used to it, he's used to it. So I doubt we'll be hearing more emotion from him anytime soon.

Ian Ferguson


Hi there,

'In the early days of text to speech (TTS), the requirement was just that the listener could understand. One of the best known examples is Professor Stephen Hawking, the author of A Brief History of Time, who has used a speech synthesiser for many years that sounds Dalek-like. The other well known example, although many fewer people have heard it, is a screen reader, such as Jaws or IBM Home Page reader, used by many people with vision impairments.'

There is another example of text to speech software that's very commonly heard by a lot of people - I'm surprised you didn't mention Apple's text to speech software, which has been part of the MacOS since the days of System 7 - I seem to recall that it was a standard fitment with System 7.5 in 1995ish, and it's been ported to OS X. (I've got a note which tells me that Apple's TTS software works with System 6.0.7, which is a 1980s version of the OS).

The point is that since text to speech software has come with Macs for - can't find out exactly, but over a decade - lots of people are familiar with the Apple sort of TTC, and it's probably a better example to cite than full-on commercial applications for those with seeing problems, on the grounds that more people will have heard it.

On the other hand, your 'article' does read like a not-really-disguised press release on behalf of SVOX, so I don't suppose I should have expected any real insight. Do you pay El Reg to get this stuff published, or what?

btw, Hawking uses timing to get his 'sideband' points across, whatever they might be. He's a master of comic timing, amongst other things.

Rowland McDonnell

Ah, the old "how much did they pay you to plug this product?" line of attack. For the record, the facts that SVOX AG is a Swiss company and Vulture Central is currently packed to the gunwales with chocolate and cuckoo clocks are purely coincidental.


The cuckoo clock will never be, mercifully, an English icon, unlike the flag of St George which has recently been officially declared just that:

Oh how short the memory is...

That rusting eyesore off the side of the A1 (Angel of the North) has already become an icon, whilst good old Nelson's column is still only a proposal, with 16% of the votes against it when I last looked!

Somehow I can't imagine plane loads of American tourists flocking over and asking "Howdy boy, wheres that dang great Angel of the North at?" (All americans talk like the Dukes of Hazard you know).

All I can assume is as this whole thing is run by a Gov department, Nelson wouldn't go down too well with the French (does anything?).

Steve


Why the hell is the Cornish pasty being touted as an icon of Englishness? Cornwall is extraterritorial to England and its head of state is the Duke of Cornwall, not the UK monarch, as was proven under English law during a spat in the late 1850s between the Crown and Duchy over foreshore mineral rights. Cornwall is not, and has never been, legally part of England.

Steve


I had a look at your list of 'English Icons' and had a bit of a chuckle.

Cup of tea: Invented by the Chinese (actually that's appropriate given outsourcing these days ...) Punch and Judy: Puppet show based on an Italian comedy that glories in domestic violence. Portrait of Henry VIII: Painted by a German.

And so the list goes on.

And wasn't St. George a Turk?

Cor blimey luv a duck.

Cheers

Gav

Gawd bless yer guvnor.


Thanks for reminding me why I hate this country! If you're interested (well even if you're not interested, actually) I've come up with some other great British inventions to add to your list:

Concentration camps (Boer Wars - 1880 - 1 and 1899 - 1902); Oswald Moseley and his Brownshirts (I'm surprised no-one's tried this out as a band name); Sinking the Belgrano when its back was turned (1982); The Poll Tax (1380 and 1990); The Sinclair C-5 (1985); The bombing of Dresden (1945);

Can ya feel your chest swell with natonalist pride yet? Can ya? Can ya?

Simon

Ahem. We're not sure we actually invented Oswald Moseley and you'd be unlikely to get a patent on sinking Argentine warships. You're right about the C-5, though. We hereby declare ourselves suitably ashamed.


"revealed to the nation on 28 April and its new iconic status will provide a boost to St George's Day celebrations on the 23rd."

Blimey, they're going to be unveiling a time machine? Even with the 'it's going to help next year' thoughts put to one side, surely it doesn't take too much thought to realise that an appropriate day to release this momentous list to the nation might be on St George's day or in the run up to it? Joined up thinking eh? (Unless of course, the idea for this marvelous scheme was only mooted on Sunday as they sat around watching the marathon in their timber framed boozer, and they've spent four frantic days putting together a list... You can almost hear the thought process "London Marathon? it's a bit of an icon innit." "Yeah, along with the Boat Race, Big Ben, Concorde and the Spitfire" "Hmm, I feel a press release coming along" "Well it's St George's day today, we could tie it all in with that..." "How about the flag as well then?")

Ummm, I'll leave you alone now.

Cheers

Peter

Yes, the timing did seem a little strange. Still, it's all good clean fun.


We thought the startling revelation that two gay flamingos have taken to "adopting" (= stealing) other birds' eggs was good clean fun, too. We clearly hadn't thought about the implications:

I feel this does nothing but add further fuel to the question of legal marriage for gay couples in the US.

Basically, as proved by test subjects Carlos and Fernando, if we allow gay or lesbian couples to marry, they're going to steal our babies.

The prospect of two bull lesbians appearing at dawn to haul off our young ones should scare crap out of any rogue conservative feeling that the relatively minor transgressions of their esteemed congressmen makes it tempting to vote for Beezlebub's Whore in the next election.

Remember a vote for Hilary is a vote to allow gay Flamingos to steal your babies.

Andy Bright

Our US readers can consider themselves duly warned.


Finally this week, a few linguistic observations, kicking off with another installment of the "Reg murders English language" saga:

"Boffin" turns up on your pages as regularly as an an unwelcome bout of gastroenteritis. The word smacks of working-class snobbishness and demeans your otherwise useful content. Why not relegate this discriminatory term to the second world war history books and achieve some credibility in the process.

Dan Frey

Sorry, but no. We like a good boffin and that's the way it's going to stay.


And rather than cull the lexicon, why not expand it?

Hi Lester, I do hope that you take the phrase, 'technology grabbagagge site' as a compliment of the highest order. In fact, ye should even use it as a new motto. It's brilliant. Regards, Sean.

Agreed. We may have lost "mobe" and "lappy" but this is more than compensated for by "technology grabbagagge".


To conclude, those of you who think that El Reg is at the forefront of trashing our beloved mother tongue should read this genuine txt msg:

mum if the teacher pones ya tell her i cant stay be hindi av got aozzy appoinment tar kim

The astounding missive above popped into the Vulture Central inbox in reponse to a story about some new SMS service or other. Obviously it was sent in error so we'll never know if Kim's mum informed her daughter's teacher that she was unable to stay behind at school due to a hospital appointment. We weep for the English language. ®

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