SR-71 Pilot Visits Tampa

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The SR-71 Blackbird was one of the most distinctive and powerful aircraft ever built, and one of the select group of pilots who flew it visited AOPA Summit in Tampa this week to tell the story of the airplane and its place in history. Brian Shul, a retired Air Force pilot, has written a book about his experiences with the airplane, and came to Tampa to talk about it. "It was a fantastic airplane," he said, between talking to visitors who stopped by his booth to view the special-edition book, illustrated with unique photos from Shul's personal collection, on sale for about $400. The Blackbird was a wonderful airplane to fly, he said. "It would always give you more speed when you needed it," he said. It was purely a spy plane, with no weapons on board. The pilot's defense was speed and altitude. The fastest he ever flew in the jet was over Mach 3, Shul said, once when he was being shot at. The SR-71 could cruise at 85,000 to 90,000 feet. Its entire crew was one pilot and a navigator in the back, both encased in astronaut-style spacesuits.

The Limited Edition book includes a presentation box, a numbered certificate, and the signatures of four prominent Blackbird crew members, including the author. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the book goes to military family assistance programs. Shul gave a talk about his experiences on Friday afternoon. He also sat down with AOPA Pilot senior editor Dave Hirschman for a chat, which is archived online at the AOPA site.