SR-71 Simulator

The BlackbirdMilitary AircraftMuseumsImage GalleryGroom LakeLinks

I had the opportunity to photograph and fly the SR-71 simulator. Currently, it resides in Building 4801 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB, CA. The simulator takes up two adjacent rooms; a room with the simulator itself, and another with all of the supporting computer hardware. During the morning of 14 July 2000, I was escorted to the simulator room for a "pre-flight briefing," so to speak, and actual "seat time" in the simulator.

The Air Force contracted Singer-Link to update the simulator in 1990 for more than 22 million dollars; it no longer simulated the performance characteristics of the SR-71. This upgrading decision came shortly before the planned retirement of the SR-71. When NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center took over operation of a few SR-71s, the simulator was required as an important aspect of pilot training, and the upgrades were made although the Senior Crown program was terminated.

The year 1990 did not see the sophisticated visual systems found on the simulations of today; nevertheless, it was still a time that saw this technology on a rudimentary level. Rumor has it that a visual display was once considered. However, the simulator still remains without a visual display and the windows are represented by a white, lighted area. Consequently, only IFR plans may be performed with this simulator. Some feel that a visual display is unnecessary unless refuelings and VFR landings are to be performed. Regardless, it is still fun to fly and in my opinion, it beats out any modern simulator like the Boeing 777. The simulator is a full motion simulator; however, pilots say that unstarts are still much more powerful in an actual SR-71, as they can cause a head collision with the side window, which was not my experience in the simulator.

The front cockpit simulator is a full-scale mockup of the front portion of the SR-71 fuselage. The only noticeable differences are the blocked out windows and section for the Instructor Pilot behind the student. The rear cockpit simulator is not a full motion simulator. It sits adjacent to the front cockpit on a floor that is level with the front cockpit's floor (beneath are hydraulics, so the simulator actually sits a few feet off of the ground, when not running). The two simulators work in conjunction during a Pilot/RSO simulator session.

It takes approximately a half hour to start the simulator. The seats in the simulator actually slide back to get in because there are no canopies that open. The simulator can simulate day and night flying, with fully functional cockpit lighting. It even has the artificial horizon laser line like that found in the actual SR-71.

SR-71 Simulator Photo Gallery