AG-330 SR-71 Start Carts

Side view of the AG-330 start cart at Blackbird Airpark, Palmdale, CA. (04-27-2002)

(Photo courtesy Rupert Scammell)

The Buick's

The photos depicted here show the AG-330 Start Cart restored and painted black to match the SR-71 Blackbirds. It is on display at Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale, California.  In real life they were painted the customary AGE yellow or in later years camouflage. The original start carts were Buick wildcat 401 cubic inch V-8 engines developing 400 horsepower. There were two Buick engines mounted tandem side by side with automatic transmissions. They were coupled together to drive a vertical shaft that was inserted into the starter mechanism on the bottom of the SR-71's engine. On engine launch there was one AG-330 Buick for each SR engine. For the first time observer of an SR-71 launch, the engine starts in themselves were almost indescribable. For one thing there was no mufflers on the Buick engines. As the Buick RPM was advanced, Flames almost three feet long erupted from the side of the start cart. It truly sounded like the beginning of the Indianapolis 500. Combine that sound with the steady increase of SR-71 RPM to engine TEB ignition at 3,200 RPM and then idle aircraft engine speed as the Blackbird comes to life. Then it all starts all over again with #1 engine. It never failed to thrill me to start the Blackbirds engines with the Start Carts. The original design was conceived by two Lockheed Skunk Works engineers who had prior race car engine knowledge. In the mid-1970's, the engines of the start carts was changed to Chevrolet LS-7 454's. The Chevrolet big block engines developed 465 horsepower each. Even so, for many years they were still referred to as the Buick's. In the '80's the AG-330 Start Carts were mothballed and in there place came a Pneumatic Air starting system for the SR-71's. It is true that the start carts were hard to maneuver around. Logistically, a recovery of a Blackbird at another base could be done easier with Pneumatic Air. Garrett Air Research installed the Pneumatic Air starting system in each of the hangers at Beale AFB to accommodate the SR-71 engine starts. The launches were never quite the same without the Buick's or the 454's. Credit should be given to those people that maintained the AG-330's in the 9th SRW Aerospace Ground Support Section. Along with maintaining all support equipment, they took great pride in maintaining the Start Carts tuned and in tip top condition. A job well done. 

Leland Haynes, Webmaster, SR-71 Blackbirds

Sgt. Michael C. Holmes recalls his first experience with the Start Carts:

I arrived at Beale AFB in 1971. I was with the 9th FMS, Aerospace Ground Equipment. I can remember taken my tour of the AGE shop and seeing the AG 330 (start-cart). I was only about 19 years old at the time, But there before me sat a machine with 2 Buick 426 cubic inch engines, with 4-barrel Carbs, Straight exhaust pipes and it sounded just like a Top Fuel Dragster. I remember wondering, what the Hell kind of plane this start cart was used to get it started?? Well it was about 5 minutes later when I heard the ROAR of the AG-330, and that Sweet sound of HABU coming alive. Right then and there I knew I was in a special outfit! I fell in love with that plane!

 Engine of the AG-330 Start Cart. Lancaster, CA. (04-27-2002)

(Photo courtesy Rupert Scammell)

AG-330 start cart used at Air Shows, Palmdale, CA.(04-27-2002)

(Photo courtesy Rupert Scammell)

 Intake fans of the AG-330 Start Cart. Palmdale, CA. (04-27-2002)

(Photo courtesy Rupert Scammell)

9th SRW Insignia on the side of the AG-330 start cart. Palmdale, CA. (04-27-2002)

(Photo courtesy Rupert Scammell)

Credits: Copyrighted photos provided by Rupert Scammell


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