Last updated: 8 Jan. 1997
This article is dedicated to my good friends and previous Supervisors who consistently stood behind me during the tough times of the past five years. Namely, Senior Master Sergeant Brad Fisher, retired Chief Master Sergeant Tom Bethards, Major Dan McCabe, and most of all my wife Kathy. You all have known me as one who always told it like it was regardless of the consequences. And true to form, here's my last installment. Thank you all for your endless support!
So many SR-71 articles are written by previous SR-71 crew members. I thought it was time to let folks see it from a different perspective. All accounts here are from my own experiences and observations, and in no way reflects the official view of any organization. So who am I to write such an article? I am a previous SR-71 Crew Chief, and served as the Maintenance Superintendent for the Reactivation effort from October of 1994 through March of 1996. I've since retired after 20 years of Air Force (AF) service.
I think it's important that everyone understand who the key players are: Big Safari, an organization known for it's success with special projects was designated as the AF SR-71 program management office. Air Combat Command (ACC) is the Major Command for ownership of the Blackbird. Twelfth Air Force (12AF) is the Numbered AF that reports directly to ACC. The 9th Reconnaissance Wing (9RW) at Beale Air Force Base (BAFB) California reports directly to 12AF, and is the previous and current Wing responsible for all SR-71 and U-2 operations. Detachment 2 (Det 2) is the deployed 9RW unit which operates and controls the SR-71, and is located at Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB) California. Lockheed Martin (LM) is the civilian contractor who maintains the SR-71, and reports directly to the Det 2 Commander. Originally, they were just Lockheed, but for purposes here, we'll call them LM. They also employ many other contractors for maintenance of sensor and avionics related systems. NASA is located at the Dryden Research Center at EAFB, and maintains the SR-71B trainer 956, the flight simulator, the parts warehouse in Barstow California, and has maintained current SR-71 flight crews since the 1990 program closure. There are many more players, but these are the primary ones. Throughout the rest of this article, I will refer to these agencies through acronyms, and will highlight individual efforts where appropriate.
As with the 1990 closure, the Reactivation efforts were to encounter the same bureaucratic red tape. When Congress canceled the program, they were promised a replacement within five years. During Operation Desert Storm, the lack of over-flight reconnaissance capabilities were revealed. Other reconnaissance platforms failed to provide this service prior to US air superiority. Satellites proved too hard to move and were predictable. And UAV's, well, they just crash or get shot down a lot. Bosnia reconfirmed this limitation. As a result, Congress directed the SR-71 be reinstated until a viable replacement or solution was available. So you can see, this effort was basically rammed down the AF's throat. They didn't ask for or want it, and are still doing everything possible to prevent it. In fact, during an early 1995 meeting in Washington DC I attended, a very high ranking official was briefed on the current status and capabilities of the SR-71 program. I don't remember his exact response, but he basically stated that if the program were to get canceled in the future, he hoped the aircraft would get cut into pieces, which is what they should have done in the first place. Ok, so now I hope you're getting a feel for what we're up against.
© Christopher W. Bennett
Back to the main SR-71 page