Read how this Habu driver saved his SR-71 from certain destruction


By Dario Leone
Dec 29 2017
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“On take off, shortly after rotation and beyond the take off abort point, the SR-71 left engine surged, followed by progressive failure of the second stage turbine wheel…”

The Blackbird pilot you see in the main image of this article is Colonel Thomas S. Pugh who with over 900 hours has been one of the high time SR-71 drivers.

On Oct. 15, 1973, while a member of Detachment 51 Flight Test at Palmdale, he earned a “Well Done” award for saving an SR-71 from certain destruction. The text of the “Well Done” is reported by Lou Drendel in his book SR-71 Blackbird In Action and says: “On take off, shortly after rotation and beyond the take off abort point, the left engine surged, followed by progressive failure of the second stage turbine wheel. Aircraft single-engine control at this point was marginal but the take-off was continued. After the aircraft was airborne and during gear retraction, a fire warning light illuminated, and was followed by total failure of the left hand engine turbine section. After safe single-engine speed was attained, the Commander completed engine shutdown. An intense fire in the left nacelle resulting from shrapnel damage to hydraulic, fuel and oil lines was extinguished during the shutdown procedure. Extensive damage occurred to the entire nacelle, fuselage and right rudder. Tower personnel confirmed that the fire was out. An elongated visual traffic pattern was flown in order to configure the aircraft for a single-engine landing. Landing weight was reduced and alternate systems were activated to properly configure the aircraft. A smooth landing was accomplished without further damage to the aircraft.”

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

Pugh was born on Sep. 30, 1935 and after having flown the B-47 and the B-52, was selected for the SR-71 program and was transferred to the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing (SRW) in 1969. While assigned as an SR-71 pilot in both the 99th and the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadrons, he performed worldwide reconnaissance missions from overseas locations. He was selected for duty in the SR-71 Test Force at AFP-42, Palmdale, Ca. He served as Chief of the Flight Test Engineering Branch and Chief of the Flight Test Division. He served as 9th SRW Vice Commander for two years and assumed command of the unit on Jul. 20, 1982.

Pugh passed away on May 13, 2014.

Read how this Habu driver saved his SR-71 from certain destruction

Photo credit: Colonel Thomas S. Pugh / U.S. Air Force

Artwork courtesy of

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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