Here’s how two little Dents on the SR-71 Nose prevented Surface-to-air Missiles from Scoring any Hit on the Blackbird

Here’s how two little Dents on the SR-71 Nose prevented Surface-to-air Missiles from Scoring any Hit on the Blackbird

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Feb 24 2024
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The SR-71 Blackbird

In the 1960’s, the US Air Force (USAF) developed the SR-71 Blackbird, a plane that could travel more than 3 times as fast as the sound produced by its own engines.

SR-71 T-Shirts
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.

Throughout its nearly 24-year career, the SR-71 spy plane remained the world’s fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft. Flying at Mach 3+ from 80,000 feet, it could survey 100,000 square miles of Earth’s surface per hour. And in the off chance an enemy tried to shoot it down with a missile, all the Blackbird had to do was speed up and outrun it.

Its engineering was so cutting edge that even the tools to build the SR-71 needed to be designed from scratch.

Dents on the SR-71 Blackbird Nose

My Dad and former SR-71 RSO Richard “Butch” Sheffield (Butch was his nickname because of his haircut that he had back in the 60s) he used to point to the nose of the SR-71 Blackbird when we would meet him at the Udvar Air and Space Smithsonian Museum in Virginia. He would point to the dimples and say “This is really important but I can’t talk about it.”

He would smile.

Here’s how two little Dents placed on the Nose of the SR-71 prevented Surface-to-air Missiles from Scoring any Hit on the Blackbird
Richard Butch Sheffield and Bob Spencer

I could just tell he wanted to tell me but he didn’t.

My father and Bob Spencer flew in one of the most important missions in the SR-71 when they got the SA- 5 Missile Signal flying within inches of the Russian border. Getting that signal was very important for the defense of the SR-71.

No one ever shot down an SR-71 they never even got close. Speed and defense made it impossible.

According to former Blackbird pilot Col. Richard H. Graham’s book SR-71 The Complete Illustrated History of THE BLACKBIRD The World’s Highest , Fastest Plane, the nose section allowed the SR-71 to have radar-imaging capability with the advanced synthetic aperture radar system (ASARS), photographic imagery with the optical bar camera (OBC), or a ballast installed. The nose section was held on by faun-massive fasteners.

Here’s how two little Dents on the SR-71 Nose prevented Surface-to-air Missiles from Scoring any Hit on the Blackbird
SR-71 Nose Section

The Dents that prevented Surface-to-air Missiles from Scoring any Hit on the SR-71 Blackbird

However, my doubt remained unanswered.

What are those two little dents on the nose of the SR-71 Blackbird?

‘I’m assuming you’re talking about the two “dents” in the chines at the front part of the nose, one on each side? Those aren’t dents, those were put there on purpose for the more advanced ECM systems the Blackbird got in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s,’ says Kelly Pedron, an aviation expert, on Quora.

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

‘There weren’t any good places to put the ECM receivers in the front of the aircraft, so those “dents” were put in the chine to allow the installation of ECM receivers there. If you’ll notice, the flat part of the “dent” is facing about 60 degrees forward, in order to cover that quadrant of the airspace around the aircraft. Earlier models of the SR, including the A-12, were more concerned with attack radar signals from the rear, so front-mounted ECM receivers weren’t as necessary at the time. With the advent of more advanced Soviet SAM systems, like the S-200 and S-300, a forward warning receiver and jammer were required, hence the development of the so-called ECM “dents” in the nose.’

Pedron concludes;

‘So, yes, those were put there on purpose; nobody accidentally taxied an SR-71 into a solid object.’

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 for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird model
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

Photo credit: Linda Sheffield Miller and U.S. Air Force



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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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