Airborne Awesomosity, Military-Grade Awesome

The Forward Cockpit of SR-71 #977


Tail number 977 in happier times

Good morning everyone.

Good news! Due to generosity of one our commenters, a Mr. Will Campbell, we have a large number of new SR-71 photographs to admire, most of which are hires.

Today we’re going to take a detailed look at the cockpit of SR-71 #977 which crashed on takeoff on October 10, 1968.


977 shortly after the crash. Image found


Both pilot and RSO escaped harm, but in separate ways.  Don Person recalls: “…. I was now reassigned to quality control as an inspector. My task that morning was to observe the launch of 977. [The] aircraft had just taken the active runway and was in take-off roll when we observed the left brake come apart and pieces punctured the inner wing fuel cells. A massive fire started; drag chutes were deployed and immediately burnt up. 977 proceded down the runway, all tires now flat. As 977 was approaching the end of the runway the RSO [Maj. James Kogler] ejected; arrestment cable caught the intake lips as the tires were flat and too low to catch the landing gear trunnions. As all this was happening the launch crew including myself were screaming down the taxiway following the aircraft. We arrived several minutes after it stopped and assisted the pilot [Maj. Abe Kardong] away from the crash area….”

The aircraft was a total loss and was the fourth SR-71 to be lost up until that point. The cockpit was salvaged and restored and is on display at Boeing Field’s Museum of Flight as seen below.


The salvaged and restored nose of 17977.

Forward Left Console


Will's pictures are all hires, so click on them to enlarge.

Will says, “Cockpit of 977. I’m 6 foot 1 for perspective. Pre-flight checks start on the left side (that you are seeing) from the back and work forward, across the main panel and end at the back of the right side.”


All diagrams are from the 'SR-71 Flight Manual' courtesy of SR-71 Online

Forward Left Side Panel


front-side-panels-php_Forward Center Instrument Panel

977-front-center-panel-2One of the restrictions to flying an SR-71 is that you had to be six feet tall or less. Dang.

front-display-php_Forward Right Side Panel

977-front-right-side-panelForward Right Console


front-right-console-php_Here is a gallery of all of the cockpit pictures. To view a hires image from the gallery, right click on the picture and select “Display Image” from the menu.

The rear cockpit wasn’t open to the public at the time of Will’s visit, but here is a gallery of pictures of the forward and rear cockpits of SR-71 #976 from the SR-71 Online website:

These are the diagrams for the rear cockpit:


The Online Blackbird Museum

The SR-71 Online website for the SR-71 Flight Manual


  • Will Campbell

    Arrival over target… Precisely on time.

    By the way, the pilot of 977 rode the bird to a stop, the RSO punched out (kinda makes sense, he was closer to the fire.) Here is a picture of 977 sitting on the ground at the end of the runway at Beale, after the fire had been put out.


  • CaptianNemo2001

    I will digest this after lunch.

    I would have made it into the cockpit when I was last there if the line was not so amazingly long at the time… =/


  • theTokenGreek

    Assuming the logic is the same as in my helicopter, the thunderstorm switch turns on a relatively bright light in the cockpit to dampen temporary blindness caused by lightning when flying near a thunderstorm. Sorry to be a killjoy, I know how awesome a weather control switch would be.

    • The Professor

      Nooooo! No no no. No. It's to turn on the thunderstorm camouflage! What could be a better disguise than make your spyplane turn into a common thunderhead as you approach the border of a hostile state. People would look up and say, "it's just another one of those fast moving storm systems. We get them all of the time."
      Flying over the central US, it could be a fast moving mesocyclone….It's just too perfect.

    • I imagine this would only be used for takeoff and landing on a SR-71. Thunderstorms top out at about 40,000-70,000 ft. Blackbirds flew at 80,000ft +.

      • Will Campbell

        Ah, but they refuel between 28 and 32000 feet (usually) I think above about 35K feet, the SR71 gets really hard to fly that slowly as the fuel tanks start to get full.

        Hmmm, in flight refueling in a thunderstorm, possibly at night… Sounds like fun. Or not. Heck, on a clear day at 28K feet it was common practice to light one afterburner to min AB, and leave the other engine at Mil power to keep the thing flying as they were getting close to a full load of fuel. Now, you have roughly a 170K lb bucking bronco of an SR-71 attached to a KC135Q bouncing through the sky filled with lightning with one afterburner lit. Hang on tight.

        • Will Campbell

          That said, if given the opportunity to experience such an event, I'd say "Where do I sign up, and how quickly can I get the the simulator to learn how to fly the thing?" If I got word that they were looking for volunteers to put one back in the air, I'd be the first person on the list.


    • The Professor

      I was so immersed in my little daydream that I forgot to thank you for describing the purpose of the thunderstorm switch. I figured that it had to be a fairly mundane function, I just didn't know what. Thanks!

      Now, back to figuring out what it would be like to be on the ground and have a mach 3+ thunderstorm hit you. You'd never hear it coming…

      • theTokenGreek

        my pleasure! I'd much rather focus on actually cool interpretations of things as well.

        • Vairship

          And what does "friction off" do? Allow you to go to hyperspace?

          • theTokenGreek

            hah! Basically. The friction that it refers to is most likely for feedback (I'm betting on the throttle lever), so without any, it'd be super easy to just flop all the way forward and really pour on the gas. It might also be for the flight control stick… there's all sorts of clever little feedback simulating devices, like counterweighted springs and whatnot to keep you from overcontrolling. I'm sure there's a sort of friction lock that could be disengaged as well.

          • The Professor

            I would think that it would be for the throttle levers for when you're doing some delicate flying, like refueling from a KC-135 and you're trying to keep your bird from stalling while not plowing into the tanker. That's a really bad time to get a muscle twitch.

  • Will Campbell

    One of the other interesting features that made its way into the cockpit of the SR-71 in the late 70s was an artificial horizon that was projected onto the dashboard and always remained level no matter what attitude the aircraft was actually in. This came in handy for night missions. This was added in after 977 crashed due to pilots stating that they couldn't see the ground or tell what attitude the plane was in at night. This was one of the biggest complaints about flying them at night. This simple addition made the plane night flight capable. This was such a major step forward with the program it was included in the simulator.