Blackbird Losses

Throughout the 25+ years that the Blackbird served the free world, 20 of these aircraft were lost due to accidents. In military jargon this is called "Written Off". The following web pages describes the events and suspected causes of the loss and includes as much data as is currently available about each crash. There are images of some of these losses. This loss listing is in chronological order from the first loss to the last one. Although Lockheed and CIA crewmembers were killed in some of these accidents, the U.S. Air Force never lost a man. This loss of life occurred in part to the early on testing phase of the aircraft by the Lockheed Skunk Works. Certainly the prevention of military loss of life is directly attributed to the incredible and subsequently improved zero-zero delay system built into the ejection seats on the Blackbirds. In effect, a crewmember can elect to eject while still on the ground. The ejection seat will carry him to an altitude high enough for the seat to separate from the man and the chute will open with enough altitude for a safe landing. Any aircraft accident is not a pretty sight. The destruction of a Blackbird is even more ominous due to the fact it is 90% constructed of Titanium. Titanium in itself is nearly indestructible, however it does burn as evidenced by these photos. The Blackbirds flew 53,490 hours of flight time with 11,675 hours at Mach three or above. The envious safety record of accidents vs flight hours flown can be directly attributed to Crewmember skills, superb maintenance technicians, ongoing direct technical support from Lockheed and certainly the zero-zero ejection seat. The following information and photos was derived from many sources. Credit is given at the end of page number four or on the photo itself. This segment of the SR-71 Blackbirds is divided up into Four web pages due to the extensive content and to expedite your browser's loading. There are five aircraft losses per page for a total of 20 losses. No apology is made to the quality of the newspaper articles...some of them are over 30 years old.

60-6926 (A-12)

24 May 1963

Loss #1  60-6926 (A-12) This was the second A-12 to fly but the first to crash. On 24 May 1963, CIA pilot Kenneth S. "Dutch" 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 (TDI). The aircraft subsequently entered a stall and control was lost completely followed by the onset of an inverted flat spin. The pilot, Ken Collins ejected safely. The crash occurred 14 miles South of Wendover, Utah. The wreckage was recovered in two days and persons at the scene were identified and individuals were requested to sign secrecy agreements. Two farmers, who arrived near the crash scene in a pickup, were told that the airplane had been carrying atomic weapons, which was not true but effectively curtailed their interest in getting any closer to the CIA's secret spyplane. Meanwhile, the press was told a different and less alarming but also false story. That the airplane that crashed was a very unclassified Republic F-105 Thunderchief. Even today, official records lists the crashed airplane as being an F-105. LAC #123  (#926) flew 79 flights for 135.3 hours total flight time prior to the crash.

Ken Collins


60-6939 (A-12)

(Lockheed Photo)

09 July 1964

Loss #2  60-6939 (A-12) This aircraft was lost on approach to Groom Lake, Area 51, Nevada on 9 July 1964 following a Mach 3 check flight. On approach, the flight controls locked up (a stuck outboard elevon servo valve), and Lockheed test pilot Bill Park was forced to eject at an altitude of 200 feet in a 45 degree bank angle. Pilot, Bill Park survived. The aircraft had less than 9 hours on it and photos of this aircraft are extremely rare. LAC #133 (939) flew 10 flights for 8.3 hours total flight time prior to the crash.

The official report read:

"Aircraft No. 133 [S/N#939] was making its final approach to the runway when at altitude of 500 feet and airspeed of 200 knots it began a smooth steady roll to the left. Lockheed test pilot Bill Park could not overcome the roll. At about a 45 degree bank angle and 200 foot altitude he ejected. As he swung down to the vertical in the parachute his feet touched the ground, for what must have been one of the narrower escapes in the perilous history of test piloting. The primary cause of the accident was that the servos for the right outboard roll and pitch control froze."


60-6929 (A-12)

(No Clear Photo Exists)

28 December 1965

Loss #3  60-6929 (A-12) This aircraft was lost on 28 December 1965 seven seconds into an Functional Check Flight (FCF) from Groom Lake, Nevada  performed by CIA pilot Mel Vojvodich. The Stability Augmentation System (SAS) had been incorrectly wired up. The pilot was unable to control the aircraft and 100 feet above the runway the pilot ejected safely. This aircraft flew 105 flights and accumulated 169.2 hours prior to crashing.

CIA pilot Mel Vojvodich


 

61-17952 (SR-71A)

(Lockheed Photo)

25 January 1966

Loss #4  61-17952 (SR-71A) This aircraft disintegrated on 25 January 1966 during a high-speed, high-altitude
test flight when it developed a severe case of engine un-start. This flight was to research and improve high mach cruise performance by reducing trim drag which would lower fuel burn and increase range. The un-start occurred during a turn at speeds above Mach 3.17 and a bank of 35 degrees. The bank immediately increased to 60 degrees; the nose pitched up and the aircraft broke apart at station 720. Lockheed pilot Bill Weaver was thrown clear (his ejection seat never left the plane) and he blacked out during the accident but recovered and landed on the ground safely. Tragically, his Reconnaissance System Officer (RSO), Jim Zwayer did not survive the high-G bailout . It is believed he died instantly from a broken neck before he ever became separated from the aircraft. His parachute opened normally and his body landed close to Bill Weaver's landing position.  The incident occurred near Tucumcari, New Mexico with the crash scene being the Mitchell Ranch. The remains of #952 lie buried near the riding stables at Edwards AFB, Ca.

Article courtesy The Sacramento Union:


 
 

Bill Weaver


60-6941 (M-21)

30 July 1966

Loss #5  60-6941 (M-21) This was the second A-12 to be converted to 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 Torrick stayed with the plane a short time before ejecting over the Pacific Ocean. Both made safe ejections, but Ray Torrick opened his helmet visor by mistake and his suit filled up with water which caused him to drown. This terrible personal and professional loss resulted in "Kelly" Johnson's decision to cancel the M-21/D-21 program. LAC #135 (941) flew 95 flights for 152.7 hours total flight time prior to the crash.

The following data is derived from www.habu.org (with Permission):

She was lost on Saturday, July 30, 1966. Prior to this flight, there had been 3 successful D-21 launches from 941, but all 3 had been executed with the mother ship in a .9g "dive," flying slightly downward to assist in blackbird/drone separation. If the still-experimental M/D-21 were to be used in combat (real-world) missions, the crew might be under fire from missiles and fighter/interceptors, and so might not have the luxury of launching from a .9g dive. In this fourth launch, the D-21 would separate in a level-flight, 1g configuration.

For the first 2 to 3 seconds of the drone launch, everything went normally. Unfortunately, the drone was not able to penetrate the shock wave coming off the mother ship. The D-21 (#504) had almost cleared the M-21's rudders when it encountered the shock wave, bounced off, rolled 45 degrees to the port (left) side, and impacted the mother ship almost directly at Station 715, where the forward fuselage attaches to the wing root. Between the impact and resulting explosion, #941 was for all intents and purposes cut cleanly in two.

Lockheed test pilot Bill Park and Launch Control Officer Ray Torrick remained in the tumbling wreckage until a lower altitude where they ejected safely, but they landed in the open ocean, and Torrick drowned when his pressure suit took on water. Some reports attribute this to Torrick prematurely opening the faceplate of his visor, but other informed sources have stated that the buoyancy of the David Clark suits would make this almost impossible. Others have speculated that his suit was torn by shrapnel from the wreckage as he ejected. In either case, no further M/D-21 flights occurred; furthermore, a Baylor bar was then added to the flight suit helmets to ensure that the faceplate could not accidentally be opened in similar situations.

All M/D-21 operations ended with the death of Ray Torrick. All subsequent flights of the D-21 were as D-21B's, which were reconfigured to launch the drone from an under wing pylon of a B-52 (much like the X-15 had been), boosted to Mach 3 by a rocket motor that was jettisoned after the D-21B's Marquardt ramjet was started.

Editors Note: Additional Data and Images

In-Flight loss of M-21 with the D21 Drone: New page (10/27/2002) with images taken from film shot by Keith Beswick who was flying along side the M-21 and recorded the collision of the D21 into the M21 Blackbird at Mach 3. Includes 16 photos of the collision with data. URL: http://www.wvi.com/~sr71webmaster/M21_Crash.htm

There is an MPEG movie of the crash sequence filmed by Keith Beswick flying along side of the M21at Mach 3. It shows the D21 drone launch and the D21 roll to its left side and crashing into the M21 causing the nose of the M21 to pitch up breaking the aircraft in two at the 715 station. You can download this movie to your computer. The file size is 16.7 MB (16,648KB) and depending on the speed of your modem connection, may be a lengthy download. Here is the URL for the M21/D21 Accident Movie:

http://www.wvi.com/~lelandh/MD21_accident.mpg

Tony Moore,"The X-Hunters" 7/5/2005 4:46 PM Writes: I knew a gentleman who worked for Lockheed Aircraft out at the test site back in the 1960's and he told me about a conversation he had with Ray Torrick on the ramp one day. It was about a camera mount that was on his right hand canopy sill and how, if he ever had to eject it would be in the way of a safe exit, Ray said he knew it was in the way but there was nothing they could do about it. He then told me that Ray Torrick did indeed hit the mount as he ejected, that it ripped the fabric of his pressure suit open and "broke his arm in about a hundred places". He said that this was why he perished in the water and not because of some mistake with a faceplate or suit vent. I know there's always been some question as to what happened that day and I thought you would like to hear this story from someone who was there.

Tony Moore



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