February 1982 photo of SR-71 #61-7974 refueling with KC-135Q #59-1513. This tanker was still in service in 2013, assigned to the 92/141 ARW at Fairchild AFB in Washington. - USAF photo by Ken Hackman

974 was lost on April 21, 1989. After taking off from Kadena AFB, her right engine exploded, taking several hydraulic lines with it and crippling the flight controls.  Her crew attempted to abort to a base in the Phillipines, but as RSO Lt.Col. Blair Bozek put it, "we could have made it on one engine with no problem, but with no hydraulics and no flight controls, the aircraft became a derelict and we were forced to eject.  Dan [Lt.Col. Dan House] bailed out first; I wanted to make sure I had good ejection position and had everything aligned properly, and ejected about 3 seconds after him."  Both pilot and RSO ejected safely.

974 taking off from Palmdale - Lockheed photo by Bill Flanagan

This was the first SR-71 accident in 18 years - the longest accident-free streak of any USAF aircraft up to that time.  The record would stand until June 18, 2004, when it was surpassed by the KC-10A Extender.  Every KC-10A ever flown by the USAF is still flying, apart from 82-0190, which was destroyed in a ground fire on September 17, 1987.  The blackbird's record will always be exceptional, as it consistently operated at the extreme edge of the flight envelope for jet aircraft, usually over hostile territory and with little or no support other than refueling tankers.

1985 photo from Mildenhall Air Show, courtesy E.J. van Koningsveld

She was the last blackbird to be lost, and was one of best.  Ask any habu which one was his favorite aircraft, and you'll hear 974 mentioned almost every time.


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