Cold War Era

SR-71 pilot tells the story of when his Blackbird nearly Lost its Nose Section in Flight. A T-38 Talon Chase Plane helped him to safely RTB.

One of the duties of the T-38 was to act as a chase plane. The Talon pilot had to look over the SR-71 Blackbird while in flight for any damage.

The first order of business before starting SR-71 training was to get checked out in the T-38 Talon aircraft, used as a companion trainer for SR-71 crew members.

One of the duties of the T-38 was to act as a chase plane. The Talon pilot had to look over the Blackbird while in flight for any damage. Col. Richard H. Graham, a former SR-71 pilot, wrote about the time when the nose of his SR became partly unfastened. The nose was only connected with 4 Bolts! The reason for this is… The nose could be switched out to use a different camera depending on the mission.

“On one occasion I needed the ‘pace chase’ aircraft to look me over,” recalls Graham in his book SR-71 The Complete Illustrated History of THE BLACKBIRD The World’s Highest , Fastest Plane. “It was right after takeoff, when my RSO, Don Emmons, and I heard a loud “bang” coming from somewhere in front of the rudder pedals. I was approaching our climb out speed of 400 knots and thought I might have hit a bird. Looking out over the nose, I noticed a large piece of the nose section beneath the aircraft had blown open, still attached, but flapping in the air stream. I couldn’t tell the full extent of the damage because the piece was underneath the nose and all I could see was one end of it flapping about. Joe Kinego, another SR-71 crew member, remembered the ‘funny (then scary)’ radio call Don made back to Beale informing everyone of our problem: ‘The nose is coming off!’ That radio call got everyone’s attention!”

SR-71 Nose Section

As we have already explained, the nose section allowed the SR-71 to have radar-imaging capability with the advanced synthetic aperture radar system (ASARS), photographic imagery with the optical bar camera (OBC), or a ballast installed. The nose section was held on by faun-massive fasteners.

Graham continues:

“The T-38 chase aircraft [flown by SR-71 pilots David Peters and Tom Alison] joined up in formation and told us the extent of our damage as we returned to Beale. It was comforting to know everything else was intact. A one-by-two foot metal section of the nose had ripped open while still attached underneath. I always felt fortunate that it happened during daylight. Had it been at night, I’m positive I wouldn’t have been able to see the loose panel and might have discounted the possibility of anything being wrong and continued the mission… you just never know.

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

“Talking to Lockheed engineers later, they determined there was a good possibility if we had gone supersonic, the entire nose section (which is removable) might have imploded from the supersonic shock wave. That scenario would have probably necessitated an ejection for both of us!”

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: 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.

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