Although no SR-71 was ever shot down, Blackbird’s pilots and RSOs had a survival kit fitted with several non-traditional items.
The first flight of an SR-71 took place on Dec. 22, 1964, and the first SR-71 to enter service was delivered to the 4200th (later 9th) Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., in January 1966.
The Blackbird was in a different category from anything that had come before. “Everything had to be invented. Everything,” Skunk Works legendary aircraft designer Kelly Johnson recalled in an interesting article appeared on Lockheed Martin website.
During its career, the SR-71 Blackbird gathered intelligence in some of the world’s most hostile environments. In fact, although no SR-71 was ever shot down, Blackbird’s pilots and RSOs had a survival kit fitted with several non-traditional items.
Of interest is the fact that the Blackbird’s survival kit included a very rare aluminum gun! Yes, you read it right! The gun was made in aluminum to keep it lightweight. My dad, Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield former SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer (RSO), told my husband, Rodney Miller about the gun for protection.
According to Last Stand On Zombie Island, one long-standing joke/urban legend was that the SR-71’s survival kit contained: “One low power 38 revolver; two boxes of ammunition; four days’ concentrated emergency rations; one drug issue containing antibiotics, morphine, vitamin pills, pep pills, sleeping pills, tranquilizer pills; one miniature combination Russian phrase book and Bible; one hundred dollars in rubles; one hundred dollars in gold; nine packs of chewing gum; one issue of prophylactics; three lipsticks; three pair of nylon stockings.”
However, as former Blackbird’s pilot Richard Graham explains in his book SR-71 Revealed the Inside History, “the survival kit contained standard Air Force survival items: a one-man life raft, day/night flares, desalinization kit, emergency UHF radio with spare batteries, first aid kit, thermal blanket, fishing gear, survival manual and maps. Tethered between you and the survival kit was the inflated one-man life raft, ready for a water landing.”
Another item that was carried in the pressure suite (not in the survival kit that was in the ejection seat) was a sealed envelope that the SR-71 crews were supposed to give to anyone who was causing them trouble. My father Butch Sheffield gave the sealed envelope to the base commander in South Korea when they were upset about having an SR-71 land on their tiny base. We are not sure what was in that envelope or what it said but the base commander smiled and then was compatible and willing to do anything to make the crew comfortable.
Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Twitter Page Habubrats SR-71 and Facebook Page Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Linda Sheffield Miller