The story of the SR-71 Blackbird sonic booms that shattered the windows of Kelly Johnson, Zsa Zsa Gabor and President Nixon’s houses

The story of the SR-71 Blackbird sonic booms that shattered the windows of Kelly Johnson, Zsa Zsa Gabor and President Nixon’s houses

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Mar 22 2024
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The SR-71 Blackbird

The SR-71, the most advanced member of the Blackbird family that included the A-12 and YF-12, was designed by a team of Lockheed personnel led by Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, then vice president of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Company Projects, commonly known as the “Skunk Works” and now a part of Lockheed Martin.

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.

The Blackbird design originated in secrecy during the late 1950s with the A-12 reconnaissance aircraft that first flew in April 1962 and remained classified until 1976. President Lyndon Johnson publicly announced the existence of the YF-12A interceptor variant on Feb. 29, 1964, more than half a year after its maiden flight. The SR-71 completed its first flight on Dec. 22, 1964.

The Blackbird was designed to cruise at “Mach 3+,” just over three times the speed of sound or more than 2,200 miles per hour and at altitudes up to 85,000 feet.

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

Windows of Zsa Zsa Gabor and President Nixon’s houses shattered

What do Zsa Zsa Gabor, President Nixon, and Kelly Johnson all have in common?

Sonic booms!

The story of the SR-71 Blackbird sonic booms that shattered the windows of Kelly Johnson, Zsa Zsa Gabor and President Nixon’s houses
Zsa Zsa Gabor

Obviously the SR 71 broke the sound barrier to get up to 85,000 feet and a speed of 3.2 Mach. Often, I would look at the windows of our house at Beale [Air Force Base, AFB] and watched them shake so hard I thought they would break!

The SR-71 tried to stay away from major cities, but occasionally it would happen over a large city like Los Angeles.

Zsa Zsa Gabor called the police to complain after the London to Los Angeles speed run. Her windows were (supposedly) shattered in her Hollywood hills home. She was appeased when pilot Buck Adams and RSO Bill Machoreck went to her house and gave her personal autograph.

Her personal assistant told the wives of the Blackbird crew members that they had to stay in the car. She only wanted the men to come in her house. While wives were surprised at her bad manners, Adams and Machoreck went ahead and apologized to her for breaking her windows.

Zsa Zsa was happy, but the wives in the car weren’t so happy.

President Nixon called the Air Force to complain when the sonic booms broke the windows in his home in Southern California. Even though it was himself who ordered sonic booms 15 seconds apart to be delivered by the SR-71 over the Hanoi Hilton.

The story of the SR-71 Blackbird sonic booms that shattered the windows of Kelly Johnson, Zsa Zsa Gabor and President Nixon’s houses
President Nixon on the phone in the oval office

Two Sonic Booms

With aircraft, this phenomenon is caused by bow and stern waves — traveling at the speed of sound — getting forced together (or compressed) because they can’t get out of the way of the faster moving plane. In “smooth flight” the united wave — now a shock wave — starts at the nose of the aircraft and ends at the tail. As the plane passes through, the wave attains a pressure imbalance (called an “N” wave due to its shape) and that’s when the boom happens.

The following video features the Audio Recording of SR-71 Blackbird Sonic Booms. Listen here to hear what a double sonic boom sounds like!

In reality, there are two booms that happen. One when that reaches the observer and one when the pressure returns to normal.

SR-71 Blackbird sonic booms shatter the windows of Kelly Johnson

Did you know the SR-71 Blackbird sonic booms shattered the windows of Kelly Johnson, Zaza Gabor and President Nixon’s houses?
Kelly Johnson

‘Kelly Johnson [The head of Lockheed’s Vaunted Skunk Works, the division that developed the SR-71 Blackbird itself] had a busy life outside Lockheed. He and his wife Althea Louise Young built a house in Encino, in the San Fernando Valley, 10 miles west of Lockheed’s facilities. They kept horses, and eventually acquired a working ranch, Star Lane, in the Santa Ynez Valley, north of Santa Barbara. Johnson maintained his own farm machinery in a 4,800-square-foot shop that he had built, and whose huge size and strong construction were a source of pride for him. The rumor is… that a test flight SR-71 flew over Johnson’s ranch and broke several of his large windows. But he didn’t have the nerve to make a complaint.’

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 Habubrats for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

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

Photo credit: CIA, News release by Rogers & Cowan talent agents, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration and U.S. Air Force


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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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