Last updated: 8 Jan. 1997
CONCLUSION & COMMENTS
I hope I was able to provide a brief overview of the Reactivation process, and lend some insight to the status of the current program. If I seemed a bit critical of Lockheed Martin and other aspects of the program, it's because I was. That was my job, and contractor oversight is very important to ensure safety and a quality product.
I volunteered for the program due to my love of the SR-71, and was very proud to be a part of the Reactivation effort. Once the SR-71 gets into your blood, it will surely stay there until you die. Nothing can replace the feeling and pride achieved by supporting the most sophisticated aircraft ever designed! There is no other feeling in the world that compares to the power felt just by sitting in that cockpit with engines running!
In my opinion, the success of the Reactivation can be primarily attributed to two individuals: Captain Mike Zimmerman, and LM's Pat Murphy. Without their individual efforts, the Reactivation could not have gotten off the ground. The current program is by no means the way it used to be, but the potential is still present. I have been around both the U-2 and SR-71 for the past twelve years, and know the capabilities of both. When the SR-71 Program was terminated, it was by far the most capable of the two. Over the past six years, the U-2 has become much more advanced, and is now the most capable reconnaissance platform in existence today. There is no doubt that the SR-71 could again achieve it's superiority. But politics, as it is, will probably never give it a chance. The sensor upgrades currently planned do not even come close to the U-2's current capabilities. With this in mind, why would anyone want to use the SR-71? The program is definitely headed in the wrong direction, and it's one that's been dictated from above. Nothing can leave such a bitter taste in your mouth as the political games played to eliminate this United States asset, both in 1990 and now!
During my last several months in the SR-71 program, I faced many realities. I saw AF management blatantly disregard the quality and safety aspects of maintenance in favor of the accelerated advancement of Program time lines. My hands became tied. I was removed from most decision making functions, and my integrity was challenged when it was suggested that I make the program look better in my reports than it really was. In fact, I got fired by the 9RW one day for simply relaying the facts about a severe aircraft maintenance problem to my actual boss, the AF SR-71 Program Manager. Two hours later, I was re-hired due to Big Safari's direction, and the efforts of my past supervisors back at Beale.
In February of 1996, I was faced with a choice. Orders had been cut by ACC to permanently assign me to the SR-71 Program. I chose retirement instead for obvious reasons. This was the first time in my AF career that I was prevented from doing what was right. I wasn't about to stick around and face the consequences. A week before I left, Lt. Col. Don Watkins told me why he actually stopped flying the SR-71 and chose to retire. His comments justified everything I had been concerned with! I wish the Program the very best, but personally don't think it will last much longer.
© Christopher W. Bennett
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