Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, laments that the nation said "bye-bye" to the "Blackbird" - the SR71 spy plane - because he says it could now provide better and quicker intelligence than satellites in the Persian Gulf war.

Hatch, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, led a losing fight in 1989 to save the sleek, stealthy jet - which has flown higher and faster than any aircraft except space vehicles - but was expensive to maintain.The military retired the last Blackbird last year, which set a speed record for travel between Los Angeles and Washington on its last flight on its way to become a museum exhibit.

"I fought very hard to keep the SR71 Blackbird operational. One point I made in the debate was that if there were a war in the Middle East, the Blackbird was the only way to keep up currently with battle damage, troop movement and mobile missile launchers on the ground," Hatch told the Deseret News.

Wire service stories said the United States in recent months has launched new satellites for better coverage over Iraq and Kuwait to help with military intelligence.

"But they pass over only certain times of the day," Hatch said. "They orbit the earth. So we have some problems until more sophisticated systems become operational."

However, he said Blackbirds could have flown over the area continuously and provided detail so fine that objects just 6 inches in size would show up on aerial photographs.

"Those who killed the SR71 argued that it was too expensive. It was expensive. But it is less expensive than not having it now," Hatch said. "We are sparing no expense now to try to find Scud missile launchers and to keep our troops safe."

He blames the SR71's death on both the Reagan administration for proposing its demise, and on congressional Democrats for actually stopping its funding despite objections from many congressional Republicans.

Hatch also said he laments that the Strategic Defense Initiative - or "Star Wars" anti-missile and satellite system - was also not pursued as originally proposed.

"There were portions of it that never would have allowed those Scud missiles to hit Israel," he said, saying such portions would likely have become operational by now if funding for the program had not fallen to the budget ax.