The SR-71 "Blackbird" was designed & developed in secrecy by the Lockheed "Skunk Works" by a team headed by Clarence L. "Kelly" Johnson. First built as a Mach 3 interceptor for defense against supersonic bombers (the A-12 and YF-12), it was find to be unsuited to the task, but much better as a supersonic high-altitude photographic reconnaissance platform. Fueled by JP-7, and powered by two Pratt & Whitney J58 Turbojet Engines, the Blackbirds were capable of cruising at Mach 3.2 and attaining altitudes in excess of 80,000 feet
The Dryden Flight Research Center's involvement with the YF-12A began in 1967. Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale, California, was interested in using wind tunnel data that had been generated at Ames under extreme secrecy. Also, the Office of Advanced Research and Technology (OART) saw the YF-12A as a means to advance high-speed technology, which would help in designing the Supersonic Transport (SST) that Boeing was designing, and the Air Force needed technical assistance to get the latest reconnaissance version of the A-12 family, the SR-71A, fully operational. Eventually, the Air Force offered NASA the use of two YF-12A aircraft, 60-6935 and 60-6936. A joint NASA-USAF program was mapped out in June 1969.
NASA and Air Force technicians spent three months readying #953 for flight, which first flew in June of 1965. On 11 December 1969, the flight program got underway with a successful maiden flight piloted by Colonel Joseph "Joe" Rogers (Holder of the world record for flying the fastest single-engine jet) and Major Gary Heidelbaugh of the SR-71/F-12 Test Force.
After some modification were made to SR-71 #953's Electronic Counter-Measures (ECM) systems, and the installation of the new ITEK "Optical Bar Camera", used for taking panoramic photographs, in the nose of the plane, the aircraft was tasked with a test flight to insure the ECM's proper function, in what is known as an functional check flight (FCF), and assigned the mission callsign of "Dutch 68".
When the Air Traffic Control facility, Los Angeles Center, approved a request to climb to 32,000 feet during the flight, Rogers moved the throttles to 'Afterburning' and planned to start his acceleration to 0.90 Mach, and climb to Flight Level 320 where he would push over into a slight descent while going through the high drag Mach 1 region. The engines compressor stalled when the afterburners lit and the airspeed decreased rapidly. Full forward stick would not prevent #953 from pitching up and when control was lost, Joe said: “Let’s go!", and the pair ejected.
Rogers and Heidelbaugh free-fell in their David Clark space suits, from 65,000 feet down to 17,000 feet, when their parachutes finally opened. A fire crew from Shoshone responded to the ensuing fire from the flaming wreckage, as Inyo County Sheriff's officers picked up Rogers and Heidelbaugh, whom both landed safely via their parachutes.
For more information about, and pictures of, the crash site - click here.
Retrieved from the crash site, this piece of metal is a reminder of that crash of one of the fastest aircraft ever, and the epic survival of one of America's greatest pilots.
Included is a Certificate of Origin, certifying that your artifact came from this historic site.