Page #4 of Blackbird Losses

61-17969 (SR-71A)

(Photo Don Person via Habu.Org)

10 May 1970

Loss #16  61-17969 (SR-71A) Lost on 10 May 1970 during an operational mission from Kadena, Okinawa against North Vietnam. Shortly after air-refueling, the pilot, Major William E. Lawson initiated a normal full power climb. Stretching before him was a solid bank of cloud containing heavy thunderstorm activity which reached above 45,000'. Heavy with fuel, the aircraft was unable to maintain a high rate of climb and as it entered turbulence both engines flamed out. The RPM dropped to a level too low for restarting the engines. Pilot and RSO, Major Gilbert Martinez ejected safely after the aircraft stalled. The crew were rescued near U Tapao, Thailand. The plane crashed near Korat RTAFB, Thailand.

Gilbert Martinez, RSO and William E. Lawson, Pilot

61-17970 (SR-71A)

17 June 1970

Loss #17  61-17970 (SR-71A) Lost on 17 June 1970 following a post-tanking collision with the KC-135 tanker. Shortly after taking on 35,000 lbs of JP-7 fuel, the pilot encountered Clear Air Turbulence (CAT) and the nose of #970 hit the tanker. Lt Col "Buddy" L. Brown and his RSO Maj Mortimer Jarvis ejected safely although both legs of the pilot were broken. The SR-71 crashed 20 miles east of El Paso, Texas, but the KC-135Q limped back to Beale AFB with a damaged vertical stabilizer.

Buddy L. Brown, Pilot & Mortimer Jarvis, RSO

(Article courtesy The Sacramento Union:)

(Article courtesy El Paso Times:)

(Article courtesy El-Paso Herald Post:)

(Article  courtesy Appeal Democrat:)

(Appeal Democrat 18 June 1970:)


60-6936 (YF-12A)

(Photo Jim Fitzgerald)

24 June 1971

Loss #18  60-6936 (YF-12A) This aircraft, the third YF-12A built, was lost on 24 June 1971 on the 63rd flight at Edwards AFB, Ca. Pilot, Lt Col Ronald J. Layton and systems operator (SO) William A. Curtis on return to Edwards AFB  found winds that were so high that it prevented an emergency landing. On approach to the traffic pattern, a fire broke out due to a fuel line fracture caused by metal fatigue. The flames quickly enveloped the entire aircraft and on the base leg both crewmembers ejected over Rogers Dry Lake. #936 was totally destroyed. Both crewmembers survived. This aircraft had accumulated 439.8 hours of flight time.

CIA Photo

Jack Layton, CIA Pilot

61-17978 (SR-71A)

(USAF Photo)

20 July 1972

Loss #19  61-17978 (SR-71A) Nicknamed the "Rapid Rabbit", this aircraft was written off on 20 July 1972 during the roll out phase of its landing. In extreme crosswinds, the pilot, Captain Dennis K. Bush attempted a landing at Kadena deploying the drag chute to combat the crosswind situation and slow the plane.  A go-around was initiated after the chute was jettisoned when it became obvious the rollout would not be successful. Note: Release of the chute is normal in a crosswind situation to prevent the plane from weather-vaning into the wind. On the next landing attempt, the aircraft touched down slightly "hot" but he had no chute to reduce the aircraft's speed. The pilot was unable to keep the plane on the runway due to the crosswinds. The landing gear hit a concrete barrier. The aircraft suffered significant damage but the pilot and the RSO, Captain James W. Fagg escaped without injury. It has been said that #978 was buried there at Kadena, however, some parts including the rudders were used on other Blackbirds.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

#978 loss at Kadena AB Okinawa on 20 July 1972

Dennis K. Bush, Pilot and James W. Fagg, RSO

The Blackbirds flew for the next 17 years (1972-1989) without a loss of plane or crew.

61-17974 (SR-71A)

21 April 1989

Loss #20   61-17974 (SR-71A) Nicknamed "Ichi-Ban", this aircraft was lost on 21 April 1989 over the South China Sea and is the last loss of any Blackbird. Pilot Lt Col Dan House, flying at Mach 3+, said the left engine seized (engine compressor bearing froze causing disintegration) and shrapnel from the engine hit the right-side hydraulic lines, causing a loss of flight controls. The pilot descended to 10,000 feet and 400 Kts before ejecting. House and RSO Blair Bozek ejected and came down safely in the ocean. They had been able to broadcast their position before abandoning the Blackbird. They came down 200 yards off the coast of Luzon Island in the Philippines. The crew were immediately rescued by native fisherman.

28 Images and history of the crash recovery operation is located at this URL:


Dan House, Pilot and Blair Bozek, RSO

(Article Courtesy the Appeal Democrat:)

Article by The Space Sentinel (Beale AFB):


Luzon Crash Recovery operations with 28 Photos

Other Mishaps:

(Photo U.S. Air Force)

Improper maintenance procedures and failure to follow Technical Data resulted in this SR-71 #964 at Beale being damaged in 1982. The landing gear was retracted without the gear pins installed resulting in several million dollars damage. OOPS!....I think these troops are still trying to see sunshine!

Thom Lancy (MSgt, USAF/Ret) recollection: I recall well the heads rolling when a sled
rested on its wing when a landing gear was inadvertently raised during phase maintenance.
Yikes! Email:

In an email received on Sunday, August 7, 2005 at 10:25 MSgt (Ret) Ben Raines Writes: Wow...This brings back so many great memories. I was stationed at Beale right after Tech school in 1977. I was assigned to the 9 FMS Hydraulic shop. Work with some of the best hydraulic people in the career field like, Wilkerson (Wilkie), MSgt Elliason, Frank Mosely and Bobby Skinner, just to name only a few. My time with the SR was from 1977 to 1983 and then from 1987 until the dark day of the SR retirement from service. I was lucky enough to head down to Palmdale to refurbish a few "Hot Gigs" when the program was being reactivated. The rest of my career has been with the U-2 until my retirement in 2001. What a great 24 years with the U-2 and SR-71. Some of my fondest (and worst) memories have been with the program. All the TDY's to the "Rock", yearly trips to Mildenhall England, Air shows and ERT's in the US. For those who remember, yes, I'm the one who was Court Marshaled in 1982 when '964 fell on it's right wing (my worse days in the program) but to clear the air, I was finally cleared and findings over turned by then General Davis (SAC/CC). I meet my wife while assigned to Beale in the early years. I married Mary Cardenas (McKinley) (divorced from MSgt Mac McKinley from the hydro shop). And yes, Mary was my supervisor in the hydraulic shop. We've been married for 25 years now. Damn that's a long time. I'm presently working for Lockheed Martin as a Tech Rep on the U-2's. I work with some of the old SR boys (Mike Burrow (CC) Norb Budzinski (RSO)). Some days we'll sit back and reminiscence about the "Old Days". Talk about all the Habu love bites. The same days you could drink 2 beers during lunch and have shop parties on Friday nights after work. Try that now!!! For those of you who are reading this, never forget the times we had working on the greatest plane ever built. 

MSgt (Ret) Ben Raines


(Photo U.S. Air Force)

#967 ran off the runway at Kadena AB, Okinawa. The aircraft had minimal damage and the Blackbird returned to the air in several weeks.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

#976 ran off the taxi way at Beale AFB, Ca. Excessive speed in a turn off the runway was a factor. The damage was minor.

Blackbird Losses Broken down by type:
A12 13 5
M21 2 1
YF12 3 2*
SR-71A 29 11
SR-71B 2 1
SR-71C 1 0

* SR-71C (61-17981) was built using the rear half of YF-12A (60-6934) and functional engineering mockup of the SR-71A forward fuselage.


Original data for these losses was compiled by Albert H. Dobyns, Author and derived from the following five books:




AEROFAX MINIGRAPH 1 SR-71 (A-12/YF-12/D-21)- Jay Miller

LOCKHEED BLACKBIRDS -Anthony Thornborough and Peter Davies


All Photos and/or data is copyrighted by their respective owners and may not be reproduced on any retrieval system or web pages without their express written consent.

Additional research for "Blackbird Losses" web page series was compiled with the assistance of the following individuals or corporations:

File Photos and Data from the Blackbird Archives of Tony Landis; Tom O'Neill; David Allison; Phil Loignon; Don Person; Jim Fitzgerald; Peter W. Merlin-The X-Hunters (Data); Donn Byrnes'  book (Blackbird Rising) (Data), The Appeal-Democrat; The Auburn Files, USAF and Lockheed Martin Corporation

Newspaper Articles courtesy of: The Appeal Democrat; The Sacramento Bee; The Sacramento Union ; Lovelock Review-Miner; The Union; San Francisco Chronicle; Antelope Ledger-Gazette; The El Paso TimesThe El Paso Herald-Post and The Space Sentinel-Beale AFB, Ca.

Loss: Page#1|Page#2|Page#3|Page#4

Luzon Crash Recovery operations with 28 Photos


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First Created: April 15, 1996 - Last Revised: March 29, 2004
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Page #12D of  "The SR-71 Blackbirds"