978 was one of only four Blackbirds to carry an individual nickname (she was also known as the "Rapid Rabbit" because of the Playboy logo she sported on both rudders throughout most of her career).

USAF photo via John Stone
The "Rapid Rabbit" refueling from KC-135Q tanker #58-0129 - USAF photo by SSgt Joe Ramirez via John Stone

USAF photo
Another photo from the above flight, this time in color. This tanker, #58-0129, is still flying; it is assigned to the 127th Wing at Selfridge ANG base in Michigan - USAF photo by SSgt Joe Ramirez

978 at Udorn AFB, May 1972
978 on the ramp at Udorn AFB, where Sgt. Jim Geddes took this photo after Tom Pugh and Ron Rice made a forced landing on Monday, May 15, 1972, due to double generator failure.

She was lost on Thursday, July 20, 1972, while attempting to land at Kadena AFB during extreme crosswinds.  The braking parachute failed to slow the aircraft, forcing pilot Denny Bush to turn the landing attempt into a touch-and-go and try for a second go-round.  He released the chute, took off, and attempted another landing.

Normally the braking chute is used for all landings to assist in slowing the aircraft, although under good conditions the brakes can do the job themselves without the assist.  Having an extremely long runway (or dry lakebed like at Edwards AFB) for such landings doesn't hurt either.

However, the chute becomes extremely important during high-speed landings -- even with empty fuel tanks, the blackbird still weighs more than 2 fully-loaded dump trucks; she has almost no drag due to her low profile; and because of the high temperature imparted during flight, her brakes lose efficiency and have difficulty stopping her completely when landing at high speeds (which are necessary when landing with high crosswinds).

In other words, she was doomed.

On the second attempt, Bush could not slow the aircraft down in time and she ran off the end of the runway, breaking the main landing gear and damaging more than just the paint on her underside.  He and his RSO Jimmy Fagg escaped serious injury, but 978 was a total loss.  She was buried under a berm at the end of the runway, which is called "Habu Mountain" or "Habu Hill" depending on who you ask.

The next Blackbird accident would not occur for another 18 years (see #974). Part of the Rapid Rabbit lives on in 975's left rudder.  Click on the photo below for the whole story.

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