The story of the SR-71 Blackbird that slid on JP7 fuel residue while taxing into Kadena Hangar

SR-71 pilot, crew chief tell the story of when a Blackbird slid on JP-7 fuel residue while taxing into Kadena Hangar

By Dario Leone
Aug 1 2021
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‘Don and I were grabbing on to the wingtip to try and stop it, people were grabbing every part of the airplane as they realised it was an emergency,’ Richard Graham, former SR-71 Blackbird pilot.

The iconic SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” was 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 US Air Force (USAF) retired its fleet of SR-71s on Jan. 26, 1990, because of a decreasing defense budget and high costs of operation.

Colonel (ret) Richard Graham, who is the author of several books on the SR-71 Blackbird, flew this aircraft for seven years and ended up with 756 hours in the cockpit of this unique Mach 3+ jet. He also told BBC Future some of his incredible stories about the world’s fastest plane.

‘Interesting story about a rainy day in Kadena and an SR 71 when things got slippery,’ Our friend Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) says on her Facebook Page Habubrats. ‘The story also shows how dedicated the maintenance team was to securing the safety of the aircraft and it’s crew.’

‘Rainstorms could be deadly: “In Okinawa, unfortunately, we had a lot of rainstorms which just come out of nowhere. And when you mix JP-7 with a little bit of rain it gets very, very slippery on the ground. An SR-71 was coming back from a mission. He was coming back into the hangar. Don [ Don Emmons, Graham’s navigator] and I were on back-up duty so we were in the hangar. As he came in to the hangar, he slows down, he’s right on the centreline… and we notice his brakes are locked up, the wheels aren’t rotating anymore, and he’s still going through the hangar, sliding. And you would not believe how many maintenance people realised immediately something was wrong with this airplane. We had maintenance guys throwing chocks under the wheel but it kept on moving. Don and I were grabbing on to the wingtip to try and stop it, people were grabbing every part of the airplane as they realised it was an emergency. It was like a dream in slow motion as this airplane just went through the hangar. And it stopped, when the main wheels just caught the other side of the hangar onto the concrete. And its pitot tube, the tube at the front, came about a foot from ramming a curved blast deflector we have for jet engines.”’

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

Dave Burns, former SR-71 crew chief, explains in a comment appeared on Habubrats;

‘I remember the day very well. The Blackbird returned early due to and abort issue. Maintenance had just returned from the end of runway (EOR) and hadn’t had time to clean up to fuel from the launch. Also a few week before the hangar floors had been finished with a light gray urethane this was hanger 4 (first to be done) and was very slick with fuel and water. The tires were wet so they slid with brakes applied. The aircraft is at idle thrust coming into the hangar. If I remember correctly, BC Thomas was pilot J Reid RSO. The aircraft weight was about 70k lbs at taxi back. The pilot did manage to turn the aircraft slightly to the left to clear the tow vehicle parked up against the blast fence on the extended center line, the tow bar off to the side. The nose cleared the tow vehicle and stopped short of the blast fence. Quickly we chocked all wheels. B C shut it down. We all let out a big sigh of relief. The crew exited the aircraft and maintenance towed it back thru the hangar, turned it around and re-spotted back in the hangar. (Fun times Ha!).’

Burns concludes;

‘I was an assigned crew chief on days hangar 3 when this happened. Not my jet but I went over to help on the recovery. Had to be mid 1980 time frame. Cause not to long later I made Tech Sgt. and took over midnight shift. (The midnight dive association). Ha!’

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

Photo credit: NASA


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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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