“WHEN I FIRST LAID EYES ON THE BLACKBIRD, I ASKED MYSELF HOW SUCH A THING COULD EVEN BE BUILT.”
FORMER BLACKBIRD PILOT TERRY PAPPAS
Pilots consider the SR-71 Blackbird to be one of military aviation history’s greatest challenges. The training had been comparably challenging: Candidates had to undergo various NASA mental and physical aptitude tests and weren’t allowed to have a single entry in their medical records. They had to be able to keep the jet under control, even at speeds around Mach 3, and master the difficult technique of refueling in the air virtually blind. At the end of the long recruitment process, just 86 men were chosen from among thousands of candidates. These were the elite of the elite, and the pride of the entire U.S. Air Force— until the Blackbird was retired after 35 years.