Other unique high altitude aircraft
In addition to aircraft specifically designed for reconnaissance, there are a number of modern fighters with Mach 2 and 3 capabilities that can zoom to extreme altitudes but don’t normally do so. They do, however, have service ceilings in the 60,000 feet-plus range. They may have a tactical reconnaissance capability as well as a high service ceiling but do not operate for long periods at extreme altitudes. Some fighters have reconnaissance pods for their tactical missions but are designed more for combat and high speed. This chapter discusses some historic record breaking aircraft from several countries. Some were bombers that proved themselves to be capable of reconnaissance, and so special variants were adapted for that purpose. In the 1950s and 1960s aircraft design was accelerating. By the Vietnam War, world speed and altitude records were being set, some of them still in force 40 years later. Some manufacturers built special-purpose stratospheric aircraft, but then either ran out of money or failed to meet their sponsor’s performance requirements. Today, any major aerospace nation could build an aircraft to fly in the upper stratosphere if it so desired, but satellites negate the need for most aircraft to possess a sustained high altitude reconnaissance capability.