Blackbird Reunion 2001
or at least they were for three days...
(Article by Leland R. Haynes, Webmaster, SR-71 Blackbirds)
For three days in June, 2001, members of the Blackbird Association gathered to renew friendships, establish new friends and relive the days of the Blackbirds. Like a hometown welcome, The Blackbird Association members assembled for the Fourteenth Biennial Reunion at the Nugget Hotel in Reno, Nevada, June 8-10. The Elite Blackbirds; the aircraft and the people, have made it's mark in history by performance and deeds not by acclaim. The people that make up the Blackbirds are certainly a modest group and as such do not seek out notoriety for their efforts. They are always cordial to the outsider and as a rule establish quick friendships. They gathered to reflect on the SR-71 and the U-2 Reconnaissance aircraft, the Skunk Works and areas of expertise known only to the select few. Having attended the last three reunions, I am still in awe of the various personnel attending and their association with the Blackbirds. There were the Commanders; the Habu Crewmembers; the CIA; the Photo Interpreters; the Lockheed Technical Representatives and the maintenance support people, to name a few. They flew into Reno from as far away as Germany. For three days, the Lockheed SR-71 and U-2 Blackbirds dominated our hearts and minds. To us they were flying high once again. Certainly to this day, the U-2 is maintaining world peace through Reconnaissance and guarding the gates of Freedom as surly as it has been done in the past. To these men and women of the 9th RW at Beale AFB, I salute you and your efforts. Your professionalism and dedication reflects great credit upon yourselves and the Blackbird Community.
The Reunion was attended by over 400 members.
Highlights and Significant Events:
The Blackbird Invitational Open Golf Tournament. I think it was invitational because you had to sign up for it. I cannot verify the "Hole in One" reputed to have been shot by Tom Pugh (Overheard at the bar). However, the $10,000 "Hole in One" Grand Prize went unclaimed.
The "Clay Shoot" organized by Mr. Charlie Brown was deemed a success. Several participants complained of sore shoulders the following day. There was suspicion that "Mag Loads" were given to the newbies of this sport.
The Invocation at the Banquet: Major General Patrick Halloran delivered the invocation with slight emphasis on having John Storrie reserve a place for him in heaven.
Major General Douglas T. Nelson: At age 80, the young looking General was speaking prior to awarding Mary Ulmer's gift from the previous Wing Commanders. He had paused to recollect the name of a base; a friendly interjection by someone in the front row...named the base correctly to assist the General's speech. The General looked up and said "The mind is the second thing to go". Laughter followed and I suspect a lot of us understood in more ways than one. Then on the other hand, I forgot what I had for breakfast.
The Slide Show: We now have positive proof that Elvis actually flew the SR-71. There was also a photo refueling the 500 gallon Gin and Tonic tanks at the OL.
The Blackbird Movie shot at Beale AFB in 1986 was shown twice on Saturday. Surely one of the best movies portraying the SR-71 during a mock international crisis. The Tribute to Kelly Johnson by a Photographer on the set was a grand tribute to this unique man who some claimed "Could see air".
Guest Speaker, Colonel Charles B. Stratton gave his recollections of his U-2 bailout over the Louisiana Bayous. His night bailout eventually landed him in the treetops of a huge Cypress tree with rescue commencing the following day. Thank you Sir for your recollections.
"Big Tail". A color Lockheed film on the "Big Tail" testing was shown at the Banquet. Guest Speaker, Colonel Thomas S. Pugh gave us some insight into the manufacture and testing of the SR-71 "Big Tail" modification. His comments included Kelly Johnson's quote: "There is no such thing as too much tail". The modification was designed for additional room for Electronic Counter Measures and Optical Bar Camera systems.
Mary Ulmer Award Presentation
Mary Ulmer was commended for her dedication and service to the 9th SRW/9th RW at Beale AFB in California. She has served as Secretary to twenty-two Wing Commanders. Mary received congratulations for her unwavering dedication to the Blackbirds and for providing unheralded continuity from Commander to Commander. She was presented a bronze statue award depicting the "Pressure Suit Man"; the base inscribed with the names of all twenty-two Commanders.
Kelly Johnson Blackbird Achievement Trophy
In 1981, the U.S. Air Force created the "Kelly Johnson Blackbird Achievement Trophy". It is a lifetime achievement award presented to an individual who has significantly contributed to the Blackbird Program. The winner of the award will have gone above and beyond what was required in the performance of duties to perpetuate, foster and improve the Blackbird Program over many years. Mr. C. L. "Kelly" Johnson graciously allowed the trophy to be named in his honor. The Kelly Johnson Award winner for 2001 was Robert F. Murphy, Chief of Skunk Works Manufacturing; for his lifetime dedication and commitment to the success of the Blackbird Program.
Mr. Robert F. Murphy
from all of the Blackbirds
Banquet Guest Speakers and Awards
(Photos Courtesy David Allison @ www.Habu.Org )
Photos are click to enlarge 640x480
Banquet-2001 Blackbird Reunion, Reno Nevada
Major General (Ret.) Pat Halloran delivered the Invocation
Colonel (Ret.) Tom Pugh, Guest Speaker. SR-71 "Big Tail"
Colonel (Ret.) Charles B. Stratton, Guest Speaker. "U-2 Bailout"
Major General (Ret) Doug Nelson
General Nelson presents "The Pressure Suit Man" Award to Mary Ulmer
Award was for her dedication to service as Secretary to 22 Wing Commanders.
General Nelson Congratulates Mary Ulmer
Mary Ulmer thanks the Blackbirds for the Award
Col. (Ret.) Richard Graham and M/Gen (Ret.) Doug Nelson
Robert Murphy, Recipient, "Kelly Johnson Award" with Fred Carmody on Right
Some of the Blackbirds
Panoramic View of the VIP's
Missing Blackbird Association Members
If you know the whereabouts of any of the above members please contact:
Jack Madison at:
2001 Blackbird Reunion Photo Archive Links:
Photo Archive of the Banquet Seating - 56 Images
Photo Archive of the Slide Show - 160 Images
Other Images - People, Exhibits and Vendors
Aerotech News Article on the Reunion by Connie Pardew
The following is my personal opinion and in no way reflects an opinion of the Blackbird Association. I am solely responsible for it's content. It is presented here as an afterthought to the untimely retirement of the SR-71 Blackbirds.
Leland Haynes, Webmaster, SR-71 Blackbirds
Although I know that the SR-71 will probably never fly again, I feel our Nation was deprived of a great national asset by it's premature retirement. The cancellation of funding for the SR-71 in October of 1998 is almost an act of treason. The SR-71 could have flown well into the 21st Century, re-annealing the airframe on each hot Mach 3 flight. It could have provided Presidents and Defense Analysts with real time photo and data information via uplinks from the aircraft to satellites and back to the Oval Office, instantaneously. Air Force and the Pentagon short sightedness has relegated this national treasure to museums as a token gesture to this magnificent airplane. I am sure that a meltdown of the Titanium airframe would have been more to their liking but the cost to do so was atrocious. Do we have something today that makes the SR-71 outmoded and inefficient for reconnaissance in today's digital age? I don't think so. My high level sources claim we do not have anything to compare with the SR-71 or it's ability to get in and get out of a hotspot. The cost of operation must be the final determining factor as many speculate. Actually, the cost of one B2 bomber (the first ones cost $2.2 billion a copy) surpasses the entire cost of the SR-71 Blackbird from inception to retirement. The cost of running the SR-71 fleet in the 1980's was $260 million annually. Could the Blackbird be built again in the manner of the new U-2...The TR-1? Technically, yes. With funding, we could build a new SR-71 with all new digital instrumentation and updated configurations. Task the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works with the proposal and you will get results. You may wonder why we should have two airframes to do the manned reconnaissance requirements. The TR-1 can loiter for long periods of time at extreme altitude and return images and data that is superb...that is also a given. However, the SR-71 could fly to any global hotspot at Mach 3+ and return instant data to those with a need to know. While it is true that the United States is not currently at war, certainly instant reconnaissance could be a determining factor in future confrontations. The SR-71 prevented an escalating war situation during the Yom Kippur War in the Sinai and could do so again today...worldwide.
Leland Haynes, Webmaster, SR-71 Blackbirds
The 2005 Blackbird Reunion is at this URL: ./2005_blackbird_reunion.htm
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Photo and Link Credits:
The following personnel directly contributed to images or text on this web site: Colonel Richard Graham (Proofing); MSgt Ron DeLozier (Photo Archive); David Allison (Photo Archive), John Stone (Photo Archive) and Lockheed Martin Corporation..
Original publish date June 14, 2001. Revised March 29, 2004