Blackbird Losses

The BlackbirdMilitary AircraftMuseumsImage GalleryGroom LakeLinks

Welcome to Blackbird Losses, a brief description of the demise of each Blackbird airframe. The information presented in this page is courtesy of Peter Merlin.


A-12 (60-6926 / 123)

This aircraft was the third A-12 built, the second to fly, and the first to crash. On 24 May 1963, CIA pilot Ken Collins was flying an inertial navigation system test mission. After entering clouds, frozen water fouled the pitot-static boom and prevented correct information from reaching the standby flight instruments and the Triple Display Indicator. The aircraft subsequently entered a stall and control was lost completely followed by the onset of an inverted flat spin. The pilot ejected safely. The wreckage was recovered in two days and persons at the scene were identified and requested to sign secrecy agreements. A cover story for the press described the accident as occurring to an F-105.

A-12 (60-6928 / 125)

This aircraft was lost on 5 January 1967 during a training sortie flown from Groom Lake. Following the onset of a fuel emergency caused by a failing fuel gauge, the aircraft ran out of fuel only minutes before landing. CIA pilot Walter Ray was forced to eject. Unfortunately, during ejection, the man-seat separation sequence malfunctioned and Ray was killed on impact with the ground, still strapped to his seat.

A-12 (60-6929 / 126)

This aircraft was lost on 28 December 1965, seven seconds into a functional check flight (FCF) from Groom Lake performed by CIA pilot Mele Vojvodich. The Stability Augmentation System (SAS) had been incorrectly wired up, and the pilot was unable to control the aircraft 100 feet above the runway. The pilot ejected safely.

A-12 (60-6932 / 129)

This aircraft was lost in the South China Sea on 5 June 1968. CIA pilot, Jack Weeks was flying what was to be the last operational A-12 mission from Kadena AB, Okinawa. The loss was due to an inflight emergency and the pilot did not survive. Once again the official news release identified the lost aircraft as an SR-71 and security was maintained. A few days later the two remaining planes on Okinawa flew to the U.S. and were stored with the remainder of the OXCART (CIA) family.

YF-12A (60-6934 / 1001)

This aircraft, the first YF-12A, was seriously damaged on 14 August 1966 during a landing accident at Edwards AFB. The rear half was later used to build the SR-71C (61-7981) which flew for the first time on 14 March 1969.

YF-12A (60-6936 / 1003)

This aircraft, the third YF-12A, was lost on 24 June 1971 in an accident at Edwards AFB. Lt. Col. Ronald J. "Jack" Layton and systems operator Maj. William A. "Billy" Curtis were approaching the traffic pattern when a fire broke out due to a fuel line fracture caused by metal fatigue. The flames quickly enveloped the right side of the aircraft, and on the base leg both crewmembers ejected.

A-12 (60-6939 / 133)

This aircraft was lost on approach to Groom Lake on 9 July 1964 following a Mach 3 check flight. On approach, the flight controls locked up, and Lockheed test pilot Bill Park was forced to eject at an altitude of 200 feet in a 45 degree bank angle!

M-21 (60-6941 / 135)

This was the second A-12 to be built as an M-21 for launching the D-21 reconnaissance drone. During a flight test on 30 July 1966 for launching the drone, the drone pitched down and struck the M-21, breaking it in half. Pilot Bill Park and Launch Control Officer (LCO) Ray Torick stayed with the plane a short time before ejecting over the Pacific Ocean. Both made safe ejections, but Ray Torick opened his helmet visor by mistake and his suit filled up with water which caused him to drown. This terrible personal and professional loss drove Lockheed's Clarence "Kelly" Johnson to cancel the M-21/D-21 program.

SR-71A (61-7950 / 2001)

The prototype SR-71 was lost on 10 January 1967 at Edwards during an anti-skid braking system evaluation. The main undercarriage tires blew out and the resulting fire in the magnesium wheels spread to the rest of the aircraft as it ran off the end of the runway. Lockheed test pilot Art Peterson survived.

SR-71A (61-7952 / 2003)

This aircraft disintegrated on 25 January 1966 during a high-speed, high-altitude test flight when it developed a severe case of engine unstart. Lockheed test pilot Bill Weaver survived although his ejection seat never left the plane! Reconnaissance System Officer (RSO) Jim Zwayer died in a high-G bailout. The incident occurred near Tucumcari, New Mexico.

SR-71A (61-7953 / 2004)

This aircraft was lost on 18 December 1969 after an in-flight explosion and succeeding high-speed stall. Col. Joe Rogers and RSO Maj. Gary Heidelbaugh ejected safely. The specific cause of the explosion has never be determined. The loss occurred near Shoshone, California.

SR-71A (61-7954 / 2005)

This aircraft crashed on 11 April 1969 under conditions similar to 61-7950. New aluminum wheels and stronger tires with a beefed up compound were retrofitted to all SR-71s because of the crash. Lt. Col. William "Bill" Skliar and his RSO Maj. Noel Warner managed to escape uninjured.

SR-71B (61-7957 / 2007)

This aircraft was the second SR-71B built and only B model to crash. It crashed on approach to Beale AFB on 11 January 1968 when instructor pilot Lt. Col. Robert G. Sowers and his "student" Capt. David E. Fruehauf were forced to eject about seven miles from Beale after all control was lost. The aircraft had suffered a double generator failure followed by a double flameout (caused by fuel cavitations) and impacted upside down in a farmer's field.

SR-71A (61-7965 / 2016)

This aircraft was lost on 25 October 1967 after an INS platform failed, leading to incorrect attitude information being displayed in the cockpit during a night flight. There were no warning lights to alert pilot Maj. Roy L. St. Martin and RSO Capt. John F. Carnochan. In total darkness, with a steep dive and no external visual references available, the crew had little alternative. They were able to eject safely. The loss occurred near Lovelock, Nevada.

SR-71A (61-7966 / 2017)

This aircraft was lost on the evening of 13 April 1967 after it entered a subsonic, high-speed stall. Pilot Capt. Earle M. Boone and RSO Capt. Richard E. "Butch" Sheffield ejected safely. The incident occurred near Las Vegas, New Mexico.

SR-71A (61-7969 / 2020)

This aircraft was lost on 10 May 1970 during an operational mission from Kadena AB, Okinawa against North Vietnam. Shortly after air-refueling, the pilot, Maj. William E. Lawson initiated a normal full power climb. Stretching before him was a solid bank of cloud containing heavy thunderstorm activity which reached above 45,000 feet. Heavy with fuel, the aircraft was unable to maintain a high rate of climb and as it entered turbulence both engines flamed out. The RPM dropped to a level too low for restarting the engines. Lawson and RSO, Maj. Gilbert Martinez ejected safely after the aircraft stalled. The plane crashed near Korat RTAFB, Thailand.

SR-71A (61-7970 / 2021)

This aircraft was lost on 17 June 1970 following a post-tanking collision with the KC-135Q (59-1474) tanker. Lt. Col. Buddy L. Brown and his RSO Maj. Mortimer J. Jarvis ejected safely although the pilot broke both legs. The SR-71 crashed 20 miles east of El Paso, Texas, but the KC-135 limped back to Beale AFB, California with a damaged refueling boom and aft fuselage.

SR-71A (61-7974 / 2025)

This aircraft was lost on 21 April 1989 over the South China Sea and is the last loss of any Blackbird. Pilot Maj. Daniel E. House said the left engine blew up and shrapnel from it hit the right-side hydraulic lines, causing a loss of flight controls. House and RSO Capt. Blair L. Bozek ejected and came down safely in the ocean. They had been able to broadcast their position before abandoning the Blackbird, and rescue forces were immediately on the way. However, the crew was rescued by native fisherman.

SR-71A (61-7977 / 2028)

This aircraft ended its career in flames by skidding 1000 feet off the end of runway 14 at Beale AFB, California on 10 October 1968. The takeoff was aborted when a wheel assembly failed. Capt. James A. Kogler was ordered to eject, but pilot Maj. Gabriel Kardong elected to stay with the aircraft. Both crew members survived.

SR-71A (61-7978 / 2029)

Nicknamed "Rapid Rabbit," this aircraft was written off on 20 July 1972 during the roll out phase of its landing at Kadena AB, Okinawa. The pilot, Capt. Dennis K. Bush, had practiced a rapid deploy-jettison of the braking parachute. A go-around was initiated after the chute was jettisoned. On the next landing attempt, the aircraft touched down slightly "hot," but had no chute to reduce the aircraft's speed. The pilot was unable to keep the plane on the runway. The aircraft suffered significant damage. The pilot and the RSO, Capt. James W. Fagg escaped without injury.