In April 1986, following an attack on American
soldiers in a Berlin disco, President Reagan
ordered the bombing of Muammar Qaddafi’s
terrorist camps in Libya .
My duty was to fly over Libya , and take
photographs recording the damage our F-111’s
Qaddafi had established a ‘line of death,’
a territorial marking across the Gulf of Sidra ,
swearing to shoot down any intruder, that crossed
On the morning of April 15, I rocketed past the line at 2,125 mph.
I was piloting the SR-71 spy plane, the world’s
fastest jet, accompanied by a Marine Major (Walt),
the aircraft’s reconnaissance systems officer (RSO).
We had crossed into Libya , and were approaching
our final turn over the bleak desert landscape, when
Walt informed me, that he was receiving missile
I quickly increased our speed, calculating the time
it would take for the weapons, most likely SA-2 and SA-4
surface-to-air missiles, capable of Mach 5 – to reach
I estimated, that we could beat the rocket-powered
missiles to the turn, and stayed our course, betting
our lives on the plane’s performance.
After several agonizingly long seconds, we made
the turn and blasted toward the Mediterranean .
‘You might want to pull it back,’ Walt suggested.
It was then that I noticed I still had the throttles
The plane was flying a mile every 1.6 seconds, well
above our Mach 3.2 limit.
It was the fastest we would ever fly.
I pulled the throttles to idle, just south of Sicily ,
but we still overran the refueling tanker, awaiting us
over Gibraltar …
Scores of significant aircraft have been produced,
in the 100 years of flight, following the achievements
of the Wright brothers, which we celebrate in
Aircraft such as the Boeing 707, the F-86 Sabre Jet,
and the P-51 Mustang, are among the important machines,
that have flown our skies.
But the SR-71, also known as the Blackbird, stands alone
as a significant contributor to Cold War victory, and as the
fastest plane ever, and only 93 Air Force pilots, ever steered
the ‘sled,’ as we called our aircraft.