SR-71 Top Speed

Blackbird pilot recalls when his SR-71 Flew so Fast that he and his RSO Landed at Beale AFB almost a Day Before They Took Off from Kadena AB

The SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71, the most advanced member of the Blackbird family that included the A-12 and YF-12, was designed by a team of Lockheed personnel led by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, then vice president of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Company Projects, commonly known as the “Skunk Works” and now a part of Lockheed Martin.

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.

The Blackbird design originated in secrecy during the late 1950s with the A-12 reconnaissance aircraft that first flew in April 1962 and remained classified until 1976. President Lyndon Johnson publicly announced the existence of the YF-12A interceptor variant on Feb. 29, 1964, more than half a year after its maiden flight. The SR-71 completed its first flight on Dec. 22, 1964.

The Blackbird was designed to cruise at “Mach 3+,” just over three times the speed of sound or more than 2,200 miles per hour and at altitudes up to 85,000 feet.

David Peters in SR-71’s cockpit

The incredible speed of the SR-71 Blackbird

So, it comes as no surprise if, thanks to its astonishing flight characteristics, the aircraft has set numerous speed and altitude records throughout its career.

To give a real perspective of the incredible speed the iconic Blackbird could attain, SR-71 pilot David Peters tells the following, fabulous story.

‘We were TDY to Det. 1 at Kadena AB, Okinawa. One of the birds was scheduled for swap out and my back seater, Ed Bethart, and I were to fly it home. The replacement came in on Friday and we were to leave Saturday morning. So, in true Habu tradition we welcomed the incoming crew and went to happy hour Friday evening at the officers’ club.

David Peters and Ed Bethart

A true story

‘We got up Saturday morning and got ready to go home. Departure was scheduled for 1000. Everything went well and we departed right on time. Headed out to do a pass through the Korean DMZ then into the tankers in the Sea of Japan. Good refueling and climb out headed for the Sea of Okhotsk and the Kamchatka peninsula of Russia and from there to more tankers off of Adak in the Aleutian Islands. Another good refueling and on to Beale AFB California.

‘We arrived with a low approach pulled up into a closed pattern and landed. Following de-suiting and debrief we deposited our classified flight documents jumped in a car and arrived at the officers club for Friday night happy hour at 1630 17 1/2 hours before we left Kadena.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. SR-71A Blackbird 61-7972 “Skunkworks”

Try that in any aircraft other than the SR-71. Besides this is actually a true story.’

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

Photo credit: David Peters and U.S. Air Force

This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
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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  • My father was a flight surgeon for the SR-71 pilots at Beale in the mid-60s. I remember playing at home on base when the SR-71s would return from missions and often announced their arrival with Space Shuttle-like dual sonic booms. Those were great days!

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