Home » Before the SR-71 maiden flight, the cockpit had to be rearranged or the USAF would not buy it

Before the SR-71 maiden flight, the cockpit had to be rearranged or the USAF would not buy it

by Till Daisd
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The Blackbird’s cockpit needed to be rearranged prior to the aircraft’s first flight, but the cost was high and it wasn’t functional.

The SR-71 Blackbird collected intelligence during its service in some of the most difficult environments on Earth. The SR-71 remained the fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft for approximately 24 years of its life. It could survey 100,000 square miles of the Earth’s surface per hour from an altitude of 80,000 feet.

SR-71 Pilot Cockpit

The SR-71 was intended to operate at high speeds, altitudes, and temperatures; in fact, it was the first aircraft to be built using titanium since a typical aluminum frame would melt under the friction of air molecules passing over it at Mach 2.6.

Because of its cutting-edge engineering, even the tools used to construct the SR-71 had to be created from scratch. The SR-71’s task was to collect pictures while also using its sensors to detect electronic surveillance and cautiously navigate close to the enemy’s border. All of that and more was managed by the Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO).

SR-71 RSO Cockpit

The officer in the SR-71 who completed the checklist for the pilot was known as the RSO. Both his and the Pilot’s jobs had to be known to him. He did the SR-71’s Navigation. The Pilot would ask his RSO, “Where am I landing?” to acquire the precise coordinates if he had to make an emergency landing, which happened more frequently than you would imagine.

There is a saying: “You’ve never been lost until you’ve been lost going 2,100 mph!”

The cockpit of the SR-71 was rearranged prior to the aircraft’s first flight. The redesign of this cockpit was highly expensive, yet it still wasn’t usable. Thus, Butch Sheffield, Tom Schmittou, and Coz Mallozzi, the first three RSOs selected for the program, took a look at it and demanded that they redo the cockpit, which they did.

A quote from Colonel Richard “Butch” Sheffield’s unpublished book. ‘I asked one of the Lockheed Skunk Works engineers who design this, and he said; “NO ONE”. He went on to say, “Kelly told us to put the instruments anywhere they would fit.” What a mess! Airspeed on one side, attitude on the other, altimeter in the middle, we couldn’t even tell what time it was, it was a nightmare.’

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Photo by U.S. Air Force

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