SR-71 Blackbird

SR-71 pilot recalls that time his Blackbird flew so fast that he and his RSO landed at Kadena AB two hours before they took off from Beale AFB beating the sun

The SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” is a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft.

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 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.

On Mar. 8 1968 Lieutenant Colonel Buddy Brown and RSO Major Dave Jensen flew the very first SR-71 Blackbird (#978) out of the US to Kadena Air Base, Japan also known as the OL (operation allocation).

Buddy came from the U-2 program* to the SR-71 and he had many risky adventures. He was picked for this honor because he was the chief of Standardization during this time.

The SR-71 that landed at Kadena AB two hours before it took off from Beale

Buddy and Dave experienced quite a few problems with the SR-71 since the airplane was not used to the weather in the tropics. The following story is an excerpt taken from Buddy Brown memoirs.

Buddy Brown and Dave Jensen in front of an SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3 spy plane

‘The first leg of the first flight of the SR-71 across the Pacific was to Hawaii. And then on to Kadena it took five hours. When I flew the U-2 on this same flight it took five days (that included resting). Speed is good! On the third leg of the flight we encountered another small problem, my left generator went off-line and I couldn’t reset it. This was a NO-GO situation which means I should land as soon as practical…

‘My decision was to continue on because we were only 1000 miles (less than 30minutes) from Kadena. At this time on the high frequency radio using our coded callsign I contacted mama [Kadena’s Command post] and informed them “I was lost, but was making good time” [because despite the problem, Buddy’s SR-71was flying REALLY fast].

‘We landed at Kadena with no further problems.

‘We took off from Beale at 11:00 AM and arrived at Kadena at 9:00AM, two hours before we took off from Beale, we beat the Sun!*

Next to CIA’s A-12 hangars

‘For the first few weeks we would be using the hangars next to the CIA hangars that’s where the A-12’s were. A couple of the CIA pilots briefed us on the missions they were flying, what to expect when flying some of our missions. They were very helpful. Kadena was one of the major US strongholds of the far east. Since I had flown the U-2 a few years before out of Kadena I was very familiar with the Far East.

‘Dave and I had over a week to target study the route of flight and survival techniques in case we were shot down, refueling emergency recovery HF procedures. Dave and I were planning to fly the first mission operational.

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

‘My back up crew was Jerry O’Malley and Ed Payne, they were briefed on the mission also.

‘The following day March 21, 1968 the routine was normal during our taxi out at the end of the runway for the engine run up and trim [but] the ANS system froze on us. This of course was a NO-GO situation which caused us to abort the mission.

‘Our backup crew, O’Malley and Payne, flew the first operational Sortie in aircraft # 976.’**


*Former SR-71 pilot David Peters recalls: “It always fascinated me to see the Sun in the periscope go down and disappear in the East as we outran it. And then to catch up to it and see it come up in the West.”

**Noteworthy Buddy Brown could have been shot down over Cuba since he was Major Rudolph Anderson’s backup. If there would’ve been a technical problem with Anderson’s U-2, it would’ve been Brown that was killed over Cuba. And because of a technical difficulty, it was not Buddy who became first to fly an operational mission in the SR-71.

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: 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.

View Comments

  • Rex, a few things to consider...The SR-71 cruised at Mach 3.2 (2,200 mph). The Earth rotates at a speed of slightly over 1,000 mph at the Equator. The plane set all kinds of speed records ( London to New York, 1 hour, 54 minutes; London to Los Angeles, 3 hours, 47 minutes). Even the Concorde could outrun the Sun, and it only flew at Mach 2.

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