Unique SR-71 Cockpit photos show why no cockpit demands as much intense focus as a Blackbird’s

Unique SR-71 Cockpit photos show why no cockpit demands as much intense focus as a Blackbird’s

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Apr 20 2024
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The Blackbird

The SR-71, unofficially known as the “Blackbird,” was a long-range, Mach 3+, strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed from the Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft.

B-58 navigator recalls dropping Mark-53 nuclear bomb (without plutonium pit) while flying at 500 feet and at 628 knots, low level recce missions, dinner with Doolittle Raiders and Jimmy Stewart
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.

The Blackbird was in a different category from anything that had come before. “Everything had to be invented. Everything,” Skunk Works legendary aircraft designer Kelly Johnson recalled in an interesting article appeared on Lockheed Martin website.

Unique SR-71 Cockpit photos show why no cockpit demands as much intense focus as a Blackbird’s

The SR-71 was conceived to operate at extreme velocities, altitudes and temperatures: actually, it was the first aircraft constructed with titanium, as the friction caused by air molecules passing over its surface at Mach 2.6 would melt a conventional aluminum frame.

No cockpit demands as much intense focus as an SR-71 Blackbird’s

Unique SR-71 Cockpit photos show why no cockpit demands as much intense focus as a Blackbird’s

The mission of the SR-71 was to take photographs, to use its sensors to pick up electronic surveillance. To safely navigate close to the enemy’s border. The Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO) handled all of that and more.

Because of the Blackbird’s unique capabilities, “No cockpit demands as much intense focus as an SR-71 Blackbird’s, and in frustrating irony, no cockpit offers a better view,” says Curt Mason, owner of Project Habu website who kindly shared the unique photos in this post with us.

Unique SR-71 Cockpit photos show why no cockpit demands as much intense focus as a Blackbird’s

“There was no time to look out the window. The plane knew when your eyes started to wander to the spectacle of earth from 85,000 feet; that’s when something would go wrong. There was much to monitor.* The many “steam gauge” instruments reflect a bygone era, giving the pilot information ranging from heading to compressor inlet temperature, each dial representing a critically important system.

“Even though this cockpit was operated through 2,854 flight hours, it looks brand new. That’s because it was only ever flown using the gloved hands of a crew member wearing the essential high altitude pressure suit. Every control is large enough to be adjusted with those bulky pressure suit gloves.

Unique SR-71 Cockpit photos show why no cockpit demands as much intense focus as a Blackbird’s

“You sit atop your throne, the SR-1 ejection seat, which carries a rare 100% success rate. To operate the circuit breakers, you must reach beside and behind your seat, outside your field of view through the pressure suit helmet. To make sure you actuate the correct breaker, you count down the rows and columns by feel.”

SR-71A 17975 with her cockpit open

Mason concludes;

Unique SR-71 Cockpit photos show why no cockpit demands as much intense focus as a Blackbird’s

“March Field Air Museum in Riverside, California, is kind enough to display SR-71A 17975 with her cockpit open. This gives us a rare peek inside the world of the Blackbird, allowing us to look inside something that was formerly top secret and reserved only for a privileged few crew members. These photos were captured using a camera extended into the cockpit via monopod. At no point did I or my equipment come in contact with the artifact.”

Photo credit: Curt Mason / Project Habu and U.S. Air Force

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

*SR-71 pilot David Peters gives more details about “looking out the Blackbird window.” He recalls:’ Buzz Carpenter (pilot) and John Murphy (RSO) were flying a DMZ mission out of Kadena and were about 75,000 in bound when John spotted an object out his left window which turned out to be a weather ballon. He told Buzz to look out the left window and Buzz said no, he was busy. John gave him a bad time and Buzz finally said you don’t look outside because the airplane knows and does weird stuff. Of course that was a joke between them but I honestly don’t know anybody after a few flights that were not comfortable with the airplane. I looked out as much as I could because it is obviously the greatest seat in the world.’

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.

Model
This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.

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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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