“I didn’t think the chances of surviving an ejection at Mach 3.18 and 78,800 ft. were very good.”
During the early days of testing for the legendary SR-71 Blackbird there were some harrowing mishaps, the details of which have rarely come to light.
On January 25, 1966, test pilot Bill Weaver and Lockheed flight test reconnaissance and navigation systems specialist Jim Zwayer experienced their plane vanishing around them while executing a turn… at more than 2,400 miles per hour.
In Weaver’s own words:
On the planned test profile, we entered a programmed 35-deg. bank turn to the right. An immediate unstart occurred on the right engine, forcing the aircraft to roll further right and start to pitch up. I jammed the control stick as far left and forward as it would go. No response. I instantly knew we were in for a wild ride.
Everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. I learned later the time from event onset to catastrophic departure from controlled flight was only 2-3 sec. Still trying to communicate with Jim, I blacked out, succumbing to extremely high g-forces. The SR-71 then literally disintegrated around us. From that point, I was just along for the ride.
My next recollection was a hazy thought that I was having a bad dream. Maybe I’ll wake up and get out of this mess, I mused. Gradually regaining consciousness, I realized this was no dream; it had really happened. That also was disturbing, because I could not have survived what had just happened. Therefore, I must be dead. Since I didn’t feel bad–just a detached sense of euphoria–I decided being dead wasn’t so bad after all.
AS FULL AWARENESS took hold, I realized I was not dead, but had somehow separated from the airplane. I had no idea how this could have happened; I hadn’t initiated an ejection. The sound of rushing air and what sounded like straps flapping in the wind confirmed I was falling, but I couldn’t see anything. My pressure suit’s face plate had frozen over and I was staring at a layer of ice.
The command center at Edwards Air Force base, seeing the plane vanish from the radar, assumed the worse. There was simply no way anyone could survive a breakup at that speed.
At least, that’s what they thought until they received a collect call… from Bill Weaver, now at a hospital in New Mexico and doing fine.
Two weeks later, Weaver was back in the air, flying the SR-71 and pushing it to it’s limits.