Experience of SR-71 'Blackbird' pilot disassembled in the air at Mach 3.2


Harley Flowers

During the US-Soviet Cold War, Lockheed Martin created the SR-71 (Blackbird), a supersonic aircraft with a cruising speed of Mach 3.2, as a reconnaissance aircraft that flies at high speed while avoiding enemy radar. It made its maiden flight on December 22, 1964 and was handed over to the United States Air Force in 1966, but just before the handing over, an accident occurred in which the aircraft disassembled in the air. A memorandum by Mr. Bill Weaver who boarded the aircraft as a test pilot has been released as to what happened at this time.

SR-71 Pilot explains how he Survived to his Blackbird Disintegration at a Speed of Mach 3.2 --The Aviation Geek Club

On January 25, 1966, Lockheed Martin test pilot Weaver, along with flight test reconnaissance and navigation system expert Jim Zweyer, challenged the SR-71 test at Edwards Air Force Base, California. rice field. Weaver and colleagues were conducting an assessment of the aircraft and investigating ways to improve high Mach cruising performance by reducing trim potency (air resistance acting on the aircraft). In the latter investigation, the flight test was conducted with the position of the center of gravity shifted to the rear than usual and the SR-71's vertical stability was impaired.

With Weaver as the pilot and Tubayer as the RSO (Reconnaissance Systems Officer) in the backseat, the SR-71 took off from Edwards Air Force Base at 11:20 and completed the first round of the mission. After receiving aerial refueling from the KC-135, it accelerated to a cruising speed of Mach 3.2 and climbed to the first cruising altitude of 78,000 feet.

According to Weaver, a few minutes after the start of cruising, the automatic control system for the right engine intake malfunctioned and had to switch to manual control. The SR-71's intake was automatically adjusted during supersonic flight to slow down the airflow in the ducts to subsonic speeds before reaching the engine surface. However, if not properly scheduled, a phenomenon called 'unstart' will occur in which a shock wave is emitted forward due to turbulence in the intake port. It is said that the thrust of the engine is lost in an instant, an explosion sounds and the aircraft yaws violently, making it feel as if a train accident had been encountered. At the time of the SR-71's development, this unstart seemed to be not uncommon, and if the system worked properly, it should have been able to absorb the shock waves and regain normal operation.


José Luis Causarás Castelló

However, although the aircraft operated to tilt to the right according to the program, an 'unstart' occurred immediately with the right engine, the aircraft started rolling clockwise, and then pitched up (nose up). rice field. Mr. Weaver pushed the control stick all the way to the left front, but there was no reaction and 'I thought this would be a big deal.'

'We told Jim what was happening and told him not to escape from the aircraft until low speeds and low altitudes. At Mach 3.18 and 78,800 feet, he could withstand the escape. However, it was later confirmed by the cockpit voice recorder that the words I spoke were incomprehensible due to the rapid increase in G (gravitational acceleration). ' Recollecting those days.

'Everything unfolded like slow motion. As I learned later, it took only a couple of seconds from a controlled flight condition to a wreck of the aircraft. Trying to communicate with Jim. I lost consciousness and faced a very high G, and the SR-71 literally collapsed around us, 'weaver said. Weaver, who was thrown into the air and lost consciousness, regained consciousness in a few seconds, but the face shield was frozen and he could not see the outside situation.

'Because the pressure suit was inflated, I knew that the emergency oxygen cylinder in the seat kit attached to the parachute harness was working. The oxygen cylinder not only supplied breathing oxygen, but also the suit. It pressurizes the inside and prevents blood from boiling at ultra-high altitude. Also, I did not know at that time, but by pressurizing the suit, you can protect your body from severe impact and G. The inflated suit became my own escape capsule. '

'The next thing I was worried about was stability. At high altitudes, the air density wasn't enough, and as soon as the body turned, centrifugal force was applied, which could lead to injury. Therefore, the SR-71's parachute system It was designed to automatically deploy a small caliber stabilizing chute immediately after the wearer escaped from the aircraft and the seat was separated. I did not intentionally activate the injection device, I also thought that all automatic functions depended on the proper emission sequence, so I thought the stabilizing shoot might not have been deployed. '

'But I quickly confirmed that I wasn't spinning and was falling vertically. The little parachute was open and working. The next thing I was worried about was the altitude of 15,000. It's a main parachute designed to open automatically at feet (about 4.6km). Again, I wasn't sure if the auto-opening feature would work. I can't see it on a frozen faceplate, so myself I didn't know how high I was. I didn't know how much I was unconscious or how much I was down. '

'I looked for a manually actuated ring for the parachute, but I didn't know where it was because the suit was inflated and my hands were biting in the cold. So I opened the face shield and measured the height from the ground. The moment I reached for the face shield, I felt reassured that the deployment of the main parachute suddenly slowed down. I lifted the face shield, which was a little broken and solidified, and faced with one hand. When I checked the surroundings while supporting the shield, I found that I was descending into the winter sky with open visibility. I was very relieved to see Jim's parachute coming down a little over there. I thought it wouldn't help because it was disjointed, so when I saw Jim escape, I felt really good. '

'A few kilometers away from the landing point, I could see burning debris. The terrain was a desolate plateau, dotted with snow, and no one seemed to be inhabited. I rotated the parachute, I tried to look in the other direction, but one hand was all I could do to raise the face shield, and both hands were paralyzed by the high altitude and sub-freezing temperatures, and I couldn't operate the parachute to rotate. '


Kelly Michals

Mr. Weaver's planned flight area was New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, but he did not know which state he had reached. However, it was around 15:00 at the time of the fall, so weaver said he was prepared to spend the night there.

'At about 30m above the ground, I pulled the handle of the seat kit and confirmed that it was fixed with a long strap. By releasing the heavy seat kit, I landed with the seat kit attached to the lower body and put my foot on it. I tried to avoid injuries such as broken bones, and I remembered what kind of survival goods were in it and the techniques I learned in survival training. '

'The first parachute landing was very smooth. I landed on a fairly soft ground, avoiding rocks and cacti, but the parachute was still in the wind, so I folded the chute with one hand and the other. I supported the still frozen face shield with my hands. '

At that time, I heard a voice saying, 'Are you looking for something?' When I raised my face thinking, 'Is it a hallucination?', I saw a man wearing a cowboy hat walking toward me. A helicopter was idling just behind it. If I were at Edwards Air Force Base and told my fellow search and rescue teams, 'I'm going to bail out on Rogers Dry Lake at this time,' I'm as fast as that cowboy pilot. I wouldn't have been able to get there. '

'That person was Albert Mitchell, owner of a huge cattle ranch in northeastern New Mexico. I was landing a little further away from his ranch house. I saw him. He was surprised and said, 'The parachute isn't working well.' He walked in and broke the canopy and fixed it with some stones. He saw me and Jim fall. He wirelessly contacted the New Mexico Highway Patrol, the Air Force, and the nearest hospital. '

'When I lifted my body away from the parachute harness, I found the cause of the rattling strap noise I heard while descending. The seat belt and shoulder harness were still wrapped around my body and fixed. The seatbelts were torn on both sides, and the shoulder harness was torn across the back as well. The exit seat stayed on the plane and I was torn off with intense force while keeping the seatbelts and shoulder harness fastened. It was '

by Kelly Michals

'Also, of the two lines that supply oxygen to the pressure suit, one was off and the other was barely left. If at high altitude, the second line was off. Had it been, the inflated pressure suit would not have provided any protection. I knew that oxygen supply was important for breathing and pressurizing the suit, but how much the inflated pressure suit was. I didn't know if it would protect me. It was really touching to have a bruise and a mild whiplash while the aircraft collapsed and withstood the force to tear off the heavy nylon seatbelt. I'm really grateful to have a small escape capsule. Mitchell helped remove the parachute and then said, 'I'll see Jim.' He boarded the helicopter and returned in about 10 minutes. When he came, he gave me miserable news. Jim was dead. Apparently, he broke his neck when the aircraft was disassembled in the air and died instantly. Mitchell said, 'The chief of the ranch is coming soon. And watch Jim's body until the authorities arrive. '

'I asked Mitchell to see Jim, and after confirming that I couldn't do anything more, I decided to have Mitchell send me to a hospital about 100km away.'

'I vividly remember the flight of that helicopter. The little helicopter vibrated and shook more than I expected. I told the cowboy pilot,'I'm fine so I don't have to hurry. He tried to reassure him, but he told the hospital staff that we were heading, so he said he would arrive at the hospital as soon as possible. It would be ironic if he was killed by a helicopter who came to the rescue. '

'But I arrived at the hospital safely and quickly. I was immediately able to contact Lockheed's flight test office at Edwards Air Force Base. The test team there first lost radio and radar contact. I was informed that the aircraft had been lost, and I knew the flight conditions at the time, so I thought no one would have helped. I knew what had happened. Explained and fairly accurately communicated the flight situation before the separation. '

'The next day, we tried to reproduce our flight profile in the SR-71 flight simulator at Beale Air Force Base, California. The results were the same. Immediate measures were taken to prevent the accident from recurring. The test with CG that exceeded the normal aircraft limit was stopped, and the problem of trim resistance was subsequently solved by aerodynamic method. The control system of the intake port was also improved, and then the digital automatic flight and control system With the development of, almost no restarts are seen. '

'Two weeks after the accident, I boarded the SR-71 again and boarded a new aircraft at Lockheed's assembly and testing facility in Palmdale, California. The flight test engineer in the seat may have been a little worried about my feelings and confidence. I ran on the runway with a roaring sound, and when I took off, I heard an uneasy voice from the interphone. 'Bill! Bill! Are you there? '

'When I answered,'Oh, George. What's wrong?', The engineer replied,'Good! I thought I had gone somewhere.' The SR-71's rear cockpit has a front view. No, I can't see me from George because there are only small windows on both sides. In addition, the big red lamp on the master panel of the rear cockpit was lit and it said 'Pilot Ejected'. Fortunately, the cause was a misalignment of the microswitch, and I wasn't fired, 'Weaver said.

After that, Mr. Weaver was involved in the ' L-1011 Tristar ' project for passenger aircraft, and even after retirement, he participated in the mission of the ' Pegasus ' rocket used for launching artificial satellites with the L-1011 as a captain until he was 85 years old. He died on July 28, 2021 at the age of 92.

William Weaver Obituary (2021) --San Diego, CA --San Diego Union-Tribune

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