On Apr. 13, 1967, my father, Richard ‘Butch’ Sheffield became the first Air Force officer to eject from an SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3+ spy plane.
The SR-71 Blackbird ejection seat was the SR-1, a Lockheed Design that was not much different from the Stanley designed Lockheed C-2 (later modified into the S/R-2) seat which preceded it in other aircraft (the C-2 seatwas used in the very early A-12s and SR-71 Blackbirds). According to The Ejection Site, some of the differences between the C-2 and the SR-1 seat included the omission of the leg guards and arm restraint nets which were used on the C-2.
Due to a fatality that occurred early in the SR-71 program where a crewman was killed when his helmet impacted the headrest of the seat during a structural breakup, some of the C-2 seats were equipped with a headrest extender to more closely fit the seat to the crewman.
Earl Boone was the second.
It was a night training mission. Takeoff was at 7:30 PM, the SR-71 #966 had less than 50 hours on her, the total flight time from takeoff till impact was one hour and 23 minutes.
Shortly after refueling, the SR pitched up and then down and did two cartwheels. It was at this time that Earl Boone ordered my father to get out! He pulled the ejection ring when the airplane was inverted and on fire. Dad said as he was floating down from 20,000 feet, he saw the airplane breaking in half, exploding and falling to the ground. The crashsite was Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Captain Sheffield was found by a helicopter. He told me that the helicopter almost landed directly on him. He grabbed his radio and yelled “don’t land on me” . He was unable to move; his pressure suit was so full of gravel from being a drug by the parachute after he hit the ground. Maj. Earl Boone walked back to the crash site 9 to15 hours after the accident. He told my mother that he walked all night because he just couldn’t face her. He thought my father had died.
The next night I watched the national news and heard Walter Cronkite saying that my Dad had been found alive in New Mexico after his spy plane had crashed then showed a picture of him. It dawned on me that maybe, my family wasn’t living a normal life. This was a terrifying incident for my entire family. And for the Boone family too.
Earle Boone was an excellent pilot and did not cause the accident, he did choose to leave the Air Force.
My Dad, Richard ‘Butch’ Sheffield took six weeks off to recover and then resumed his job. He hated being grounded and couldn’t wait to fly again.
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: Linda Sheffield Miller, The Ejection Site and NASA