The Who2 Blog

Thrill Ride: What It’s Like to Have Your Spy Plane Disintegrate Around You at 78,000 Feet

“Everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. I learned later the time from event onset to catastrophic departure from controlled flight was only 2-3 seconds. Still trying to communicate with Jim, I blacked out, succumbing to extremely high g-forces. Then the SR-71… literally… disintegrated around us. From that point, I was just along for the ride.”

Amazing story from test pilot Bill Weaver about a 1966 test flight of the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane.

SR-71 photo, of a black spy plane soaring over snow-capped mountainsNASA photo, via Wikipedia

Weaver and Jim Zwayer, a Lockheed flight-test specialist, were doing Mach 3.18 (about 2400 MPH) at 78,000 feet when an engine inlet failed.

Before the breakup, we’d started a turn in the New Mexico-Colorado-Oklahoma-Texas border region. The SR-71 had a turning radius of about 100 mi. at that speed and altitude, so I wasn’t even sure what state we were going to land in. But, because it was about 3:00 p.m., I was certain we would be spending the night out here.
At about 300 ft. above the ground, I yanked the seat kit’s release handle… I then tried to recall what survival items were in that kit, as well as techniques I had been taught in survival training. Looking down, I was startled to see a fairly large animal, perhaps an antelope, directly under me. Evidently, it was just as startled as I was because it literally took off in a cloud of dust.
Great story. Weaver lived to tell the tale… barely.
(Hat tip: Mr. Duffy)

Share this: