Retired SR-71 Blackbird Pilot With a Funny Story to Tell

Major Brian Shul, USAF (Retired), relays the true story of a ground speed check with Los Angeles Center, while piloting the SR-71 Blackbird over Southern California. The Lockheed SR-71 ‘Blackbird’ is a long-range, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft that was operated by the United States Air Force. It was developed as a black project from the Lockheed A-12 reconnaissance aircraft in the 1960s by Lockheed and its Skunk Works division. American aerospace engineer Clarence ‘Kelly’ Johnson was responsible for many of the design’s innovative concepts. During aerial reconnaissance missions, the SR-71 operated at high speeds and altitudes to allow it to outrace threats. The SR-71 was the world’s fastest and highest-flying operational manned aircraft throughout its career. On 28 July 1976, SR-71 serial number 61-7962, piloted by then Captain Robert Helt, broke the world record: an “absolute altitude record” of 85,069 feet (25,929 m). Several aircraft have exceeded this altitude in zoom climbs, but not in sustained flight. That same day SR-71 serial number 61-7958 set an absolute speed record of 1,905.81 knots (2,193.2 mph; 3,529.6 km/h), approximately Mach 3.3.