Bill Weaver was a Blackbird pilot who survived the crash of his SR-71

Bill Weaver was a Blackbird pilot who survived the crash of his SR-71

The unbelievable story of a lucky SR-71 pilot who survived the destruction of a Blackbird at Mach 3+.

Bill Weaver was a Blackbird pilot who survived the crash of his SR-71
Bill Weaver was a Blackbird pilot who survived the crash of his SR-71

Bill Weaver piloted the SR-71, which took off from Edwards AFB at 11:20 a.m. with Lockheed flight test expert Jim Zwayer in the back seat. They refueled from a KC-135, rocketed to Mach 3.2, and rose to their first cruise height of 78,000 feet.

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They had an “inlet unstart” during a programmed 35-degree bank right turn, causing the right J-58 engine to immediately unstart, forcing the plane to roll further right and pitch up. When a shock wave was swiftly discharged back beyond the inlet, it caused an inlet to unstart. When an inlet unstarts occurred, the cross-tie system was activated to reduce the aircraft’s excessive rolling and yaw while also preventing the good inlet from unstarting. The cross-tie system also restarted the good engine at the same time. “I jammed the control stick as far left and forward as it would go,” Weaver told former Blackbird pilot, Col. Richard H. Graham, in his book “SR-71 The Complete Illustrated History of THE BLACKBIRD The World’s Highest, Fastest Plane.” There was no reaction. I knew we were in for a rough ride right away.”

Weaver and Zwayer chose to stay with the plane until they reached a lower speed and altitude since the chances of surviving an ejection at Mach 3.18 and 78,000 feet were slim, but the combined consequences of system breakdowns surpassed flight control authority. Even though the duration from the event beginning to the disastrous departure from a controlled flight was only two to three seconds, everything seemed to happen in slow motion.

“While still trying to speak with Jim, I blacked out, succumbing to extraordinarily strong g-forces,” Weaver says. The SR-71 then destroyed all around us.”

Weaver strained to understand what was going on. “I would not have been able to withstand what had just occurred.” I’m sure I’m dead. I understood I wasn’t dead when complete awareness set in. But I’d gotten away from the plane in some way. I had no clue how this could have happened because I hadn’t ejected myself. I knew I was falling because of the sound of rushing air and what sounded like straps flapping in the wind, but I couldn’t see anything. The faceplate of my pressure suit had frozen over, and I was looking at a coating of ice.”

The pressure suit proved to be highly good protection for Weaver at that moment. In actuality, an emergency oxygen tank in the seat kit linked to the parachute harness was operational after it was filled. It not only provided breathing oxygen, but it also inflated the suit, preventing Weaver’s blood from boiling at such a high altitude. The suit’s pressurization had also offered physical protection from extreme buffeting and g-forces in this fashion. That inflated suit had taken on the appearance of a little escape capsule.

Weaver reasoned that the stabilizing chute might not have deployed because he had not purposefully triggered the ejection process. However, he rapidly realized that he was falling vertically rather than tumbling, indicating that the little parachute had released and was doing its function. The main parachute, which was meant to open automatically at 15,000 feet, was the next point of worry, but he had no certainty that the automatic-opening feature would operate. As he grabbed for the faceplate to estimate his height above the earth, Weaver felt the reassuring rapid deceleration of primary parachute release.

Weaver was rescued after landing by Albert Mitchell Sr., the owner of a ranch in northeastern New Mexico, who assisted him with the chute before reaching Zwayer, who had landed nearby with his own Hughes helicopter. Mitchell returned a few minutes later, reporting that Zwayer had died: he had broken his neck during the plane’s breakup and died nearly quickly. Mitchell also stated that his ranch foreman would keep an eye on Zwayer’s body until the authorities arrived and that he would fly Weaver to the Tucumcari hospital.

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