SR-71 pilot recalls the mission where a Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat fired a missile at his Blackbird

SR-71 pilot recalls the mission where a Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat fired a missile at his Blackbird

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Feb 4 2024
Share this article

The MiG-25 Foxbat

In the late 1960s, the USSR revealed the existence of the aircraft that appeared to be the world’s deadliest fighter, the MiG-25 (NATO reporting name “Foxbat”). This aircraft could outrun any fighter in the air, and indeed any military aircraft other than the SR-71 Blackbird.

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.

Loaded with two R-40 missiles (NATO reporting name AA-6 ‘Acrid’), the Foxbat could reach 78,000 feet, but with its full complement of four missiles, it was limited to 68,900 feet. By contrast the Habu flew at cruise speeds above Mach 3 at over 80,000 feet.

Nevertheless, once an SR-71 Blackbird flown by Col. Darrel Cobb was fired on by a MiG-25, as Cobb himself recalls in this interview given to his son Chris;

The “holy grail” of the soviet air defense system: shooting down an SR-71 Blackbird

Col. Cobb’s SR-71 Blackbird fired on by a MiG-25.

‘Operational missions.

‘First let me assure you; we never broke President Eisenhower’s promise to cease overflying the Soviet Union. We remained over international water – 12 mi offshore.

‘All of my operational flying was from Kadena, Okinawa. Area of interest was Vietnam; Korea; Vladivostok, USSR; China. Later, we flew transatlantic & return from Seymour Johnson, NC supporting the Israel Arab war. After I left the program, the SR flew from Mildenhall, England & Bodo, Norway.

‘We already touched on missions against Vietnam & the only night mission.

‘Today let’s cover “north missions.”

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

‘Take off, refuel & head into the Sea of Japan; between Japan & south Korea. Accelerated to operational speed – 3.20. Head directly at Vladivostok. headquarters of USSR air defense; and test/r & d of new radar & intercept development. 2200 mph guaranteed to light up all the radar & intercept systems they had.

‘A MiG-25 interceptor squadron was based just outside of Vladivostok. The “holy grail” of the soviet air defense system was to shoot down an SR-71.

‘Turn north up the Sea of Japan & make a U-turn back down the USSR coast (12 mi offshore) with ELINT & SIGINT recorders going full bore. Photo cameras looking oblique into the USSR, updating the interceptor air order of battle. Head south east till past Vladivostok then turn slightly left then right to cross Korea at the DMZ. Photo cameras updating N. Korea force readiness to resume hostilities against S. Korea.

SR-71 Blackbird fired on by a MiG-25

‘Continue down the yellow sea coast of China. All sensors evaluating China’s threat to Taiwan. Turn left- decel & land at Kadena. I flew this profile several times during the 4 years I flew ops missions. One of these got very, very thrilling. Southbound, passing Vladivostok, Reg (my RSO) announced;

‘”We’ve got a fighter locked on – it’s gotta be a MiG-25″

‘”Our DEF [Defensive Electronic Gear, DEF. It Provided ground-to-air and air-to-air missile protection. Still Classified. Def systems were labeled DEF A,B,C,E and G. Later modifications to the DEF Systems resulted in DEF A2, C2, H and M systems. Nearing retirement of the SR-71, a programmable DEF labeled A2C could defeat all known threats to the Blackbirds] is blanketing all beautifully.”

Fedotov MiG-25RB altitude world record

‘”Oops – he just fired – – we’ve got a missile locked on”

‘”Our def has shifted to its missile magic”

‘”There – lock’s broken. Missile’s back in search”

‘”That’s weird – sounds like the missile’s locked on – but not locked on us”

‘”He’s gone – coming up on the “s” turn to the DMZ.”’

Fast forward to late 1976 Col. Cobb retired from the Air Force.

MiG-25 at risk of being shot down by its own missile

Cobb continues;

‘I’m retired! Learning that retirement means no days off; no vacation; no holidays; big pay cut.

‘I find the aircraft TV channel & history channel. Lots & lots of SR-71 films. I avidly watch at every opportunity. In my den, glued to the TV & today’s SR-71 show, & who do I see comparing the MiG-25 with the SR-71??

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

‘You’re right – – Lt Victor Belenko!

‘He was totally gobsmacked; his MiG-25 burned up the engines getting to Mach 3 yet the SR’s cruise speed was greater than 3.0.

‘Belenko is the one who said that the Holy Grail of soviet air defense was to shoot down an SR.

‘He told of how they would pre-position ahead of the SR’s radar track and had to zoom up to get a lock on & fire their missile.

‘Belenko stressed how quickly & precisely they had to perform because the window of opportunity was so very short.

‘Their target was traveling at 3600 ft/sec. Faster than a speeding bullet.

‘He described in detail how precise the post firing breakaway had to be executed to avoid getting shot down by their own missile; talking as though they found this out the “hard way.”’

Cobb Concludes;

‘Man talk about intense attention – – I’m quickly mentally replaying that tape from the inter-phone – –

‘”We’ve got a fighter locked on – it’s gotta be a Mig-25″

MiG-25

‘”Our DEF is blanketing all beautifully.”

‘”Oops – he just fired – – we’ve got a missile locked on”

‘”Our def has shifted to its missile magic”

‘”There – lock’s broken. Missile’s back in search.

‘”That’s weird – sounds like the missile’s locked on – but not locked on us.”’

What happened to the missile fired by the MiG-25 Foxbat at the SR-71 Blackbird?

What happened to the missile fired by the MiG-25? Could it have locked onto the Foxbat itself? Could the SR-71 DEF have deceived it? We’ll never know.

However, we can assume that given that SR-71 had a cruise speed faster than the top speed of the MiG-25’s Acrid missiles, the Blackbird simply outran the AA-6. There was no chance a Foxbat could conduct a tail-chase interception of an SR-71 (the MiG-25 couldn’t carry out a head-on intercept of a Blackbird too: in fact, the Foxbat’s radar and fire control system was not sophisticated enough to solve the problems of a head-on intercept at closing speeds that would exceed Mach 5).

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: Dmitriy Pichugin via Wikimedia and U.S. Air Force


Share this article

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.
Share this article


Share this article
Back to top