At the final SR-71 crew reunion, Blackbird pilot revealed why he didn’t push his SR-71 to Mach 3.5 during the last, record flight on Mar. 6 1990 from Los Angeles to Washington DC

At the final SR-71 Crew Reunion, Blackbird pilot revealed why he didn’t push his SR-71 to Mach 3.5 during the last, record flight on Mar. 6 1990 from Los Angeles to Washington DC

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Jul 1 2024
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The final SR-71 crew reunion

From Jun. 20 to Jun. 23, 2024 at Reno, Nevada, I had the chance to attend the 25th and final SR-71 Crew Reunion. After 50 years in fact, the book on reunions was closed. Every two years there was a reunion hosted by the Blackbird Association, a very exclusive club where you can only get in by receiving a membership card (you can get the membership card if directly associated with the A-12/SR-71/U-2/TR-1/KC-135Q/KC-10/T-38 programs, the 9th SRW and associate units. I received a membership card because Major General Pat Halloran requested mine).

B-58 navigator recalls dropping Mark-53 nuclear bomb (without plutonium pit) while flying at 500 feet and at 628 knots, low level recce missions, dinner with Doolittle Raiders and Jimmy Stewart
CLICK HERE to see The Aviation Geek Club contributor Linda Sheffield’s T-shirt designs! Linda has a personal relationship with the SR-71 because her father Butch Sheffield flew the Blackbird from test flight in 1965 until 1973. Butch’s Granddaughter’s Lisa Burroughs and Susan Miller are graphic designers. They designed most of the merchandise that is for sale on Threadless. A percentage of the profits go to Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base. This nonprofit charity is personal to the Sheffield family because they are raising money to house SR-71, #955. This was the first Blackbird that Butch Sheffield flew on Oct. 4, 1965.

Noteworthy the SR-71 Crew Reunion had been at Reno for the last 50 years because Reno is a short drive from Beale Air Force Base (AFB), home of the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) and the SR-71 Blackbird program. The organizers were SR-71 crew members.

SR-71 crew reunion speech

Former SR-71 pilot Major General Eldon (Al) Joersz gave the speech that was supposed to be presented by Major General Pat Halloran. Halloran came close to making it to the last reunion but sadly died on May 31. Joersz along with SR-71 RSO George Morgan set the world absolute speed record for jet-powered airplanes with a speed of 2,193 mph on Jul. 28, 1976 and for this reason they are known as “the fastest men alive.”

I was very comfortable being around SR-71 aviators during the reunion because I have been around them my whole life. I had the chance to clear up some old misunderstandings and found out about new SR-71 projects.

At the final SR-71 crew reunion, Blackbird pilot revealed why he didn’t push his SR-71 to Mach 3.5 during the last, record flight on Mar. 6 1990 from Los Angeles to Washington DC
With SR-71 pilot Jim Shelton. They said at the reunion that his flight was probably the longest Blackbird flight ever with over 11 hours during the Yom Kippur war.

The faster you fly the faster your fuel goes

I sat down with Ed Yielding Blackbird pilot who flew SR-71 #972 on the last flight on Mar. 6 1990 from Los Angeles to Washington DC for the coast to coast speed record in 64 minutes. Yielding told me the real reason why the flight could not have been made in under one hour. “Ben Rich (at the time Skunk Works’ Vice President) requested the flight to be done as fast as possible, so the Skunk Works engineers did some research and said no to flying the Blackbird at Mach 3.5.”

According to Yielding, their concerns were:

  • the stress on the engines going that fast for that long (the SR-71 was built for a speed of Mach 3.2, not 3.5)
  • running out of gas if they went faster than Mach 3.3.

“The faster you fly the faster your fuel goes. It wouldn’t be a good final appearance of the Blackbird if it ran out of gas short of the Dulles Airport runway in Virginia,” Yielding explained me.

So, they did refuel first when they went out over the Pacific Ocean and then second and lastly over the Atlantic Ocean for a little booster of fuel to make sure they could do a flyby in front of the crowd that included me and my father, Butch Sheffield, at Dulles airport.

At the final SR-71 crew reunion, Blackbird pilot revealed why he didn’t push his SR-71 to Mach 3.5 during the last, record flight on Mar. 6 1990 from Los Angeles to Washington DC
SR-71 pilot Ed Yielding talking to me

I found out that SR-71 pilot Charlie Daubs is planning to take over what general Halloran started at the Strategic Air Command (SAC) & Aerospace Museum at Ashland, Nebraska, by placing personal Blackbird memorabilia. The museum has SR-71A, S/N 61-7964 on display which was delivered to the USAF on May 27, 1966, and has the third-highest flight hours of the Blackbird fleet.

Keeping the Blackbird program legacy alive

Daubs explained me that the museum is looking for donations to keep the SR-71 program legacy alive through symposiums (dubbed SR-71 “spy-posiums”, the next one is planned for Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Aug. 9, 2024 if you get a chance to go to one of these symposiums, it’s well worth your time to talk to these brave aviators).

SR-71 art
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.  Dawn at 80.000ft – SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” is a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft. The first flight of an SR-71 took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in January 1966. The U.S. Air Force retired its fleet of SR-71s on Jan. 26, 1990.

Throughout its nearly 24-year career, the SR-71 remained the world’s fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft. From 80,000 feet, it could survey 100,000 square miles of Earth’s surface per hour.

Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Twitter X Page Habubrats SR-71 and Facebook Page Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder Habubrats for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

Cool Video Explains how SR-71 Blackbird’s J58 Turbo-Ramjet Engine Works
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: Lt. Col. Bill Flanagan / U.S. Air Force and Linda Sheffield Miller


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Linda Sheffield Miller

Linda Sheffield Miller

Grew up at Beale Air Force Base, California. I am a Habubrat. Graduated from North Dakota State University. Former Public School Substitute Teacher, (all subjects all grades). Member of the DAR (Daughters of the Revolutionary War). I am interested in History, especially the history of SR-71. Married, Mother of three wonderful daughters and four extremely handsome grandsons. I live near Washington, DC.
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