SR-71 pilot explains how he was able to land his Blackbird after it suffered a Double Engine Compressor Stall

SR-71 pilot explains how he was able to land his Blackbird after it suffered a Double Engine Compressor Stall

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Dec 31 2021
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‘My RSO, Ed Bethart, made his infamous comment “don’t tell me that’s the other engine,” My answer, “Ed that’s the other engine,”’ SR-71 Blackbird pilot Major David “Dave” Peters.

SR-71 Blackbird pilot Major David “Dave” Peters was born to fly. He started collecting airplane pictures at the age of 7, writing to airplane manufacturers for pictures that would cover every inch of his childhood bedroom wall.

On Apr. 28, 1979 with RSO Ed Bethart in the back seat, Dave was descending back to Okinawa, Japan, his home base, with only one engine working.

Then the other engine blew out. Knowing that the SR-71 glides like a rock, he had to think fast! Dave started to tell Ed to get out (eject), then Dave heard a voice…

Peters recalls;

‘“You’re OK keep going.” The voice was not in my head. Ed said he never heard it. I heard it again and I felt calm and I did exactly that. I kept going.

‘It started with a rocket ride one pass through the Korean DMZ unrefueled. Everything was great until I came out of AB (afterburner) for the descent. Almost immediately the left engine started surging and compressor stalling with the EGT going way past limits. I told Ed I was going to shut it down. So, he went through the check lists and we declared an emergency and requested descent to a precision straight in. We were setting up and not particularly worried because we had done this more than once.

The urban legend of the brown bag with $30 million in cash delivered to Kelly Johnson to pay for the first six CIA U-2 spy planes
David Peters in SR-71’s cockpit

‘Unfortunately, about 15,000 ft in the descent setting up for a downwind the other engine started surging and compressor stalling. Ed made his infamous comment “don’t tell me that’s the other engine,” my answer, “Ed that’s the other engine.” So, he says “what are you going to do?” I said “Restart the other engine so call approach and tell them we are going visual and get the tower and I’ll talk to them.” So, I started a pretty steep dive to get enough speed for a restart which I was able to get. The engine was still operating the same way so it wasn’t doing anything but giving us hydraulics for flight controls. I left the other one running for the same purpose. Ed got the tower and I told them we were running out of engines and were visual for a modified straight in. They cleared us for whatever we needed.

‘We were doing a little over 500 KIAS and turning onto a descending base leg trying to get the speed down to lower the gear. I had Ed get a hold of Mobil to let them know. Tom Keck and Tim Shaw were Mobil and they had Bob Cunningham and Jim Sullivan with them. I didn’t find out till later that Jim had told them all don’t say a word the last thing they need is help.

‘We kept slowing and I threw the gear down at about 350 KIAS. At the same time the right engine ceased. The gear came part way down so I pulled the emergency release handle and the mains came down and locked but the nose wasn’t down. I was constantly readjusting and trimming to keep the flight controls as close to neutral as possible because I didn’t want any violent movement if everything quit. That’s when I told “Ed if I say get out if you say what… you’ll be talking to yourself.”

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

‘I kept letting it slow and about 5 miles on final the nose came down and locked. I felt like we had everything set up well and was geared to keep going. According to the MRS the second engine quit at 11 seconds on final which at the speed we were traveling was a little over a mile and a half. I think because I kept keeping the trim as close as possible there were not any big changes and windmilling may have been enough. At any rate we touched down at about 240 KIAS popped the chute and eventually used emergency breaking to stop.

‘Lew Sultze was the first one there with a pickup he backed up under the chine and we exited.

‘It turned out to be very fortunate that we were able to get it down because it was determined that the cause was faulty fuel hydraulic pumps that failed. When they looked further, they found the same faulty pumps on the other airplane at Kadena, two at Beale and one at Mildenhall.

‘We received DFC’s and I was awarded the Koren Koligian Jr trophy which recognizes the most meritorious flight for all US military for the year.’

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

Photo credit: Mike Freer – Touchdown-aviation via Wikipedia and David Peters

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

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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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