The King of Speed

A reader sends in the link to a great SR-71 story.

It starts:

There were a lot of things we couldn’t do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact.

What makes this even more interesting to Murdoc is that this very story was related to him by a former Blackbird pilot this past summer. I think he told me that he had been told by one of the men involved, but I can’t remember for sure.

Incidentally, the pilot I was lucky enough to be able to spend time chatting with spent a great deal of his career training other Blackbird pilots, and he spent a lot of hours in aircraft #61-7956, one of two SR-71B two-seat trainers. The other ‘B’ aircraft was lost in 1968, so virtually all SR-71 training after that time occurred in this plane.

(I asked what would have happened had the second ‘B’ model encountered disaster, and he told me that they had cobbled together what they called an SR-71C from leftover parts and pieces. It was built from the aft fuselage of a wrecked YF-12A and a functional engineering mock-up of an SR-71A forward fuselage originally built for static testing. This Frankenstein’s Monster flew so very nicely and was so easy to maintain that they called it “The Bastard” and it wasn’t used a whole lot.)

Aircraft #61-7956 (also known as NASA #831 from its time at Dryden Flight Research Center) is now on display at the Kalamazoo Air Zoo museum in Michigan. I’ve visited since it arrived in 2003, but unfortunately the terrible lighting conditions in the new section of the Air Zoo (apparently to make things more “dramatic” or something but actually very annoying) prevented me from getting a picture of the Blackbird that turned out.

But, seeing as MO readers seem to have this thing for pictures, here’s a shot of a bunch of Dryden aircraft from 1997 that includes Blackbird #61-7956:

A collection of NASA’s research aircraft on the ramp at the Dryden Flight Research Center in July 1997: X-31, F-15 ACTIVE, SR-71, F-106, F-16XL Ship #2, X-38, Radio Controlled Mothership and X-36.

You can clearly see the second cockpit of the ‘B’-model SR-71. (Pic from the Dryden collection.)


  1. Remember when we built birds that were smokin’ hot? It seems like I’ve been asleep for about 20 years. I’ve never been in the fastest airplane, but I’ve been in the biggest. I was part of the test flight air crew for a C-5. We were flying touch and go’s into a small airport in Jackson, TN. We weren’t actually putting the tires on the runway, naturally, but they had a landing beacon for a system we needed to test. When we were done the air traffic controller told us that was the biggest airplane that had ever visited their airport (no surprise there) and they had a bunch of calls regarding a large airplane in distress circling the city. I’ll bet that was a pretty impressive sight, a 500,000 lb C-5 flying low over a little town like Jackson.

  2. We’ve also got a trainer version of the SR-71 at the Hill AFB museum just North of Salt Lake City. I should stop by and get some pics sometime for you. As an aside, Murdoc…. you interested in going to shotshow in 2008 with a photographer?

  3. Dfens: That think must have looked like a monster circling around. LOL. BWJones: That must then be the ‘C’ model trainer, cobbled together after one of the ‘B’ models bit the dust. I know it’s in a museum somewhere.

  4. I read somewhere that adding the second canopy to the SR-71 was not as easy as they thought it would be. The first version had such a large negative impact on the aerodynamics that the airplane wouldn’t go supersonic, let alone Mach 3. The sad thing today is we don’t have anyone who can design Mach 3 aircraft. That’s one of the reasons none of the aerogiants have been pushing for them. They’re all full of pointy headed avionics and software guys who wouldn’t know how to build a kite. That’s what happens when you ‘projectize’ the industry. New airplane designs are nothing but a threat to existing aircraft projects, and the projects have all the power. Screw the future, what’s really important is that we build more C-17s.

  5. Dfens- while I can’t help wondering if you haven’t hit upon something deep and important and just a little rotten in the aerospace industry, are you sure you want to take your rage out on the C-17? Right now we’re using a lot more heavy cargo-lifters than we are Mach 3 recon/interceptors. And you might want to take your point up with whatever engineers are working on that super-high-speed missile (the concept name escapes me- it probably involved global strike) the DoD floated a requirement for not so long ago. If I can find a link I’ll post it. Anyway. It is a shame, all the less, that we aren’t making planes that impress the schoolkids any more.

  6. True enough, the C-17 is a work horse and it’s doing its fair share in Iraq. I didn’t mean to pick on the C-17 in particular, but just the mindset in general. You could pick the name or designation of any current airplane program and substitute it that spot. And while impressing the school kids is a good thing, what we really need to start building again are weapons that scare the crap out of our enemies. I’m open to suggestions regarding what those might be, but wicked fast and capable of raining death from above are good examples of what I’m talking about. Building enough of them to blot out the Sun for couple of minutes would be good too.