WASHINGTON – A shipment of sensitive communication parts from the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and the tough F-16 fighter jet was on sale to the highest bidder last week before eBay yanked the items amid an Air Force investigation.
According to a report in Newsweek, a crateload of secret spare parts found its way to the auction site, where the general public — including enemies of the state — could have posted bids on the items.
Rogue nations such as Iran routinely seek replacement parts for their U.S.-manufactured military planes, officials told the magazine, and the eBay sale could have easily been used to provide supplies.
"This is now under active investigation by the OSI [Office of Special Investigations]," said Lt. Col. Mike Caldwell, the Pentagon's Air Force public-affairs chief.
The OSI has already received the names and addresses of customers who bought several of the parts, and is making offers to buy them back.
An antiques dealer said he bought the crate of parts for $244 from a transfer company that had them in storage for 12 years.
The dealer scooped up the crate after the transfer company put the parts up for sale as unclaimed property.
The parts had been shipped in 1989 from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to the Warner Robins Air Logistics Supply Depot in Georgia, but never made it.
A&A Transfer held the parts in its storage space until last month. Apparently no attempt to locate the missing items was ever made.
Norb Novocin, the antiques dealer, said he bought the parts without realizing what they were.
The sale items included parts for aerial tankers and cargo jets. Novocin said he sold four items, including a weather-radar modulator for $500 and a high-frequency-radio circuit card for $32.
When the Air Force learned of the sales, officials launched an investigation, asked that the sale be halted and got a list of customers who purchased the items.
Several of the items Novocin purchased cannot legally be owned by a private owner in a condition other than scrap metal.
The SR-71 aircraft is a reconnaissance plane that can soar at an altitude of 90,000 feet and can fly faster than a high-powered-rifle bullet, according to aviation experts.
More than 1,000 attempts have been made to shoot them down, but not a single plane has been lost to enemy action or mechanical difficulties.
The problem with the planes is that they're difficult to land. Of the 32 Blackbirds built, 11 crashed on landing.
In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson ordered all molds and tools used to build the SR-71 destroyed so that the plane could never be built by anyone again.
In 1990, the SR-71 fleet was decommissioned. Five years later, three of the planes were returned to service.