I was one of the few to fly the fastest plane in the world, the SR-71. I was specially selected to fly missions and even took the Astronaut physical, as we were all required to do,. AMA.

Proof- http://imgur.com/a/QptFA

http://imgur.com/GZzsoQI Edited* Heres some more proof as some people wanted more. I can't show you officially documentation as its classified. However I showed the mods and I am waiting on their approval.

Thanks everyone for your great questions, I am very surprised and humbled at all the interest. Best wishes to everyone. Sorry I couldn't get to everyones questions. I am told making front page is a big deal, thanks for getting me there.

Comments: 1341 • Responses: 61  • Date: 

fireslayer17528 karma

Did you know an SR-71 pilot named Jerry Glasser? He was my high school physics instructor.

Russell_SR71628 karma

Yes. Good to see he is doing well.

KCfan6520 karma

If you flew the SR-71, did you ever have to go to Area 51?

Russell_SR71966 karma

I wish I could answer that. Sorry.

Russell_SR71425 karma

Thanks everyone for your great questions, I am very surprised and humbled at all the interest. Best wishes to everyone.

xtcg123389 karma

What's the smallest object you could clearly see/read on the ground from typical SR-71 altitude?

Russell_SR71770 karma

You could read the lettering on mailboxes as you flew.

cmrnwllsbrn339 karma

I heard that the SR71 would continuously leak fuel until it was in flight and the body had reached a certain temp. That true?

Russell_SR71652 karma

Yes, the aircraft tanks were not sealed on the ground. Lots of leakage. The aircraft temperatures, once airborne, were so hot that the aircraft grew about 12 to 15 inches. Everything sealed at that point.

StunnedGoofy306 karma

I heard the SR was so fast pilots would lose weight, is this true?

Russell_SR71419 karma

Yep, 10 pounds of water weight.

Philobus295 karma

Is the SR-71 more of a chick magnet or a dude magnet? I can see guys getting REALLY interested in this fine piece of machinery.

Russell_SR71590 karma

I am still married to my wife for 39 years. What do you think?

Drake_Smith291 karma

Do you believe the SR71 is still the fastest plane ever built?

Russell_SR71454 karma

No question about it, the best and fastest ever.

Spaceguy5176 karma

Pretty sure the only manned thing with wings that could beat it was the space shuttle

Russell_SR71565 karma

Not really. No jet engines in the shuttle. Sure could glide fast though. Just a different sort of propulsion.

Simon_Richie290 karma

Former U.S. Naval Aircrewman here.

Did you have any "This is so badss!" moments?

I'm actually jealous. I was on P-3C 's and CH-53E's so, you know... sky pigs.

Russell_SR71363 karma

Just about every time I got in the black bird. As you already know speed is good, especially at 80 thousand feet and climbing. Thanks for your service.

Simon_Richie196 karma

It was an honor. Thanks for being a badass and doing this AMA.

Russell_SR71290 karma

My pleasure. I still work with the Australian Defence Force.

Ilostmyredditlogin287 karma

Is there a significant subjective difference between going say mach 1 vs 2 vs 3 vs x? (Once you've accelerated and are cruising.)

Russell_SR71431 karma

huge difference. mach 3 is faster then you can imagine, especially if anything goes wrong, You have very little time to survive the situation, and you had better get it right.

Ilostmyredditlogin181 karma

At that speed are you reacting to what you're seeing in any way, or is it all navigating based on instruments? Is there any margin for error, or is it literally one mistake and you're dead? If the latter, how do you train to be able to maintain that level of consistency under pressure?

Russell_SR71299 karma

You are reaction to what you are seeing. The instruments were basic. Yes, one mistake and you were dead.

BoristheDrunk264 karma

I remember hearing/reading that the SR-71 was so hot upon landing, that the pilot had to wait quite a while before being able to exit the aircraft.

Is that true? and if so what did you do while waiting for the bird to cool off enough for you to leave?

Russell_SR71326 karma

Yes you had to wait a certain amount of time. During the time I was waiting lots of procedures were taken care of.

CMarlowe251 karma

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Then I saw Challenger explode on live TV.

I’m certainly no expert, but wasn’t the SR-71 coming into service when Soviet SAMs were getting good enough to climb high and fast enough to catch even a plane as fast as the one you flew? How did you mentally prepare going on mission for which you may not return?

Russell_SR71479 karma

I never thought I would not return. Even a little change of heading and a little more speed was enough to confuse just about every SAM. Since I was trained in special operations I never thought about failing a mission. Once I started any mission then fear no longer seemed to matter, just completing the mission.

urban_sarcasm238 karma

I remember reading a story about your plane in Reader's Digest when I was a kid. A line stuck with me all these years about how the SR-71 would sometimes be fired upon by a missile and the jet actually out-ran the missile. 12 year old me thought that was the most badass thing ever. 37 year old me still thinks it's pretty fucking cool!

Russell_SR71266 karma

That is true, it is pretty cool.

Russell_SR71249 karma

Thanks everyone for your questions, I may be back later depending on the demand.

82364222 karma

Thanks for the ama. What's the story behind your NASA training? How were you selected to fly the SR-71? What's the fastest speed you achieved? What can you see at different altitudes?

Russell_SR71542 karma

We had to pass the astronaut physical just to be considered, then a flying test. If you passed everything the current SR crews decided if you could fit in to the routine and many days away from home. Mach 3.4. You can see the curvature of the earth and whole continents, The colors are truly amazing.

Sannazay194 karma

Thanks for the AMA! Was there much modification or upgrading of the SR-71 during the time you flew them?

Russell_SR71405 karma

Yes. Classified.

nontechnicalbowler193 karma

Why was this plane taken out of service? Surely the fastest plane ever made is still useful.

Russell_SR71398 karma

Someone thought that satellites could do everything. Certainly not true, but that was the decision taken. You always need reconnaissance aircraft in any conflict or for peace time intelligence. I might be getting old though.

seis_cuerdas187 karma

What is the most memorable mission that you took part in?

Russell_SR71358 karma

A 16 hour flight. I could not get out of the airplane so the ground crew had to lift me up until I could walk again. I did get over it though after a day or so. I ran every day, and I still do so I think that helped.

iworknights182 karma


What does it feel like to go as fast as the plane can go?

When did you decide to be a pilot, and why?

Any favorite childhood memories?


Russell_SR71351 karma

You have to think quicker and react faster then you ever thought possible. If you get behind the jet you are dead.

After a tour in Viet Nam in special operations I decided that flying might be a better way to reach old age.

I guess I was pretty lucky to have parents who did every thing they could to keep me healthy enough to flight status.

lapelpinoftheday178 karma

Are all the legends of what the SR-71 could do true?

Russell_SR71274 karma

Yes and then some.

xtcg123168 karma

Is it true the SR-71 could navigate by using stars, even during the day? How does that work?

Russell_SR71276 karma

We had an astro tracker. It could track 60+ stars, day or night. It was pretty accurate. We actually lost it on an over ocean return. Ended up using our basic compass to get to an emergency landing base. Luckily we had fuel to make it to the alternate.

xtcg12388 karma

Is there anything like that in other airplanes? How could it 'see' the stars in the daytime? Wouldn't it have to be a visual system, where clouds, etc could get in the way at the lower altitudes?

Russell_SR71212 karma

Once airborne we could track stars. It took 3 stars to provide guidance. I do not know of any other airplane that used the astro tracker. Weather was not an issue once airborne.

mRNA-167 karma

How hard is it actually to do a barrel roll?

Russell_SR71310 karma

Not hard, any plane can be rolled

thisguystaint157 karma

what drugs were you given during your training or during missions / flights?

Russell_SR71276 karma

Just drugs to stay awake and remain alert on long missions, all prescribed.

ballsvagina113 karma

What was your favorite plane to fly aside from the SR-71?

Russell_SR71200 karma


Archanine113 karma

Not related to the SR-71 but what are your thoughts on the F-35?

Russell_SR71281 karma

In my opinion I think there are better fighters.

Above_The_Law90 karma


Russell_SR71150 karma

Military folks know that on any given mission or operation you are putting your life on the line. It is not for everyone, but I and most others are willing to put everything on the line. That is part of the deal. Yes, it is not for everyone. I absolutely trusted the black bird to get me home.

Russell_SR7128 karma

Military folks know that on any given mission or operation you are putting your life on the line. It is not for everyone, but I and most others are willing to put everything on the line. That is part of the deal. Yes, it is not for everyone. I absolutely trusted the black bird to get me home.

sugas18288 karma

Mr. Szczepanik. Thank you, all of you, for your service and for enriching the lives of us aviation buffs with stories of the Sled.

As the man in the back seat, how did it feel when the aircraft had an unstart?

Also, were crews assigned to just one aircraft for their career, and if so, which tail number did you fly on?

Russell_SR71118 karma

You knew you had an unstart, because you cracked your helmet on the other side of where the unstart is.

Crews were assigned to fly exclusively together. But they could fly other airplanes.

Chaotozen87 karma

How much different was that from the regular planes, technical wise?

Also, what were the special trainings and qualifications required to be a pilot for the SR-71?

Russell_SR71158 karma

A year of training, learning to thing at 3 times the speed of sound. And your physical requirements were tough, every time you flew. I normally lost about 10 pounds every flight.

Russell_SR71118 karma

Tough to understand the flight regime of Mach 3. It was tough to keep up, and you could not get behind ever for a second, or you were lost forever. Flying is pretty much the same for most aircraft, but the SR was unique.

veruus87 karma

What's your favorite snippet of radio traffic you could relate to us?

Russell_SR71253 karma

When I was flying the F4 we used to dial into the truck frequencies. The second one I can think of was when some guy called in that he was going mach one. We told him to wave as we passed him.

tatertot25581 karma

What was an ejection procedure like in an sr- 71?

Russell_SR71142 karma

You pull the handle between your legs and hope it works. At 60,000 or above, You then were ejected out in the seat at 15,000 and furthermore ejected out of the seat with a parachute.

IT6uru81 karma

Did you know this guy? SR-71 Pilot Interview Richard Graham Veteran Tales: http://youtu.be/CeBu6mRDaro I stumblee upon this interview the other day. Fascinating stuff.

Russell_SR71118 karma

He was my squadron leader for some time.

jaemarl80 karma

I remember watching a video with a former SR-71 pilot where he was talking about a mission where his job was to interrupt some type of speech or presentation in a foreign country by causing a sonic boom. I found it hilarious that we chose to utilize one of the most advanced pieces of technology in existence in such a trolling manner. My question to you is, have you ever heard of such a thing? How common a tactic was this? Have you ever had occasion to sonic boom some commie-fascist's ass during his big speech?

Also, if you choose to break my heart and tell me that this wasn't nearly as common as it is in my head, at least tell me your funniest sonic boom story. Thank you.

Russell_SR71110 karma

Can't comment, sorry. Sorry to break your heart.

AgentOrangutan80 karma

Could the SR-71 achieve high speed at a lower altitude, or was the atmosphere a limiting factor? Did you ever buzz cities at speed to scare them?!

Russell_SR71164 karma

High altitude carries lower air density. Flying under 60,000 ft would shatter windows and what not.

cornucopiaofdoom78 karma

What advice do you have for someone who is afraid to fly?

Russell_SR71194 karma

I would not fly, but sometimes you have too. Try not to think about it. After a few minutes you will be OK. There are much more difficult things to be afraid of, but fear can be beat by anyone. Hang in there.

shaunc74 karma

Was there ever a time when you lost trust or faith in the aircraft, only for it to redeem itself?

Russell_SR71118 karma


superbite71 karma

What was your top speed flying the SR-71? How does it feel to break the sound barrier?

Russell_SR71118 karma

The top speed is classified. I had no idea I was even breaking the sound barrier, just because I couldn't hear it or feel it.

AgentOrangutan69 karma

Why were the planes painted black like that? They look so badass!

Russell_SR71137 karma

Because of heat reflection and absorption.

rabidroofrabbit63 karma

I know im late but i hope u can answer this. Have you ever driven any really fast cars? Im talking like 150mp/h. What did it feel like being in that after being in a blackbird hitting speeds exponentially higher?

Russell_SR71186 karma

Yes I drove a Corvette. It felt much slower.

Russell_SR71258 karma

Piece of shit. I believe the F-22 is still the aircraft ever made.

Numbers_Station55 karma

What camera equipment did you use or was it all automated?

Russell_SR71100 karma

None of it was automated, you had to manually set everything.

Safety_Dancer54 karma

As a commercial pilot who got as far as a Piper Seminole I have to say I'm totally in awe of what you could do in that plane.

My question is what do you think of space planes? The idea of making a space craft that can take off as a plane and make it to orbit. Sorta like when the shuttle would piggyback on a 747, but on its own. As a pilot it blows my mind, the idea of keep climbing until you reach your destination.

Russell_SR7190 karma

good luck. Flying into space is not for the feint hearted.

RacistPancake50 karma

How the hell did you use the bathroom during 10+ hour flights?

Russell_SR71123 karma

I held it in, but there were options...

bigfattyfatkid49 karma

I understand that no SR-71 was ever shotdown. Do you think that it could be intercepted by the Russians nowadays?

Russell_SR7197 karma

I doubt it. Highly unlikely.

madog637347 karma

First of all, thank you for your service. What was it like knowing that you were the fastest moving human in the sky at that time?

Russell_SR71132 karma

I didn't think too much about it, I was just hoping I would land safely. I was thinking I would be the first to get to happy hour at the Officers Club.

Spatulakoenig45 karma

Thank you for your service and thanks for the AMA!

I have a few questions: Have you written a biography or other book?

In terms of distance, what was your longest mission? And how many mid-air refuels did it require?

What was your favorite food to eat mid-flight?

In small aircraft I have flown before, my map scale is around 1:100,000. What map scale did you use?

Russell_SR71116 karma

No, not for me. 16 hours, and 6. Tried not to eat the tube food that we could eat. Pudding was OK I cannot answer the last one as our navigation system was classified. Sorry, but I still think secrets should be kept. It was an honor to serve my country, and I would do it again in a heart beat. I still run and exercise every day, but I suspect the US does not need old folks on the front line

NO_POPE40 karma

Did you want to be an astronaut as a kid?

Russell_SR7170 karma


ifoundmyid37 karma

Firstly, shit loads of respect from my side.I have a couple of questions, being officially retired in '98, were these birds still being used for a while?, also rumours have it that the CIA does use them occasionally. Also among the well know reasons for it being retired what was the REAL reason for such a revolutionary piece of equipment to be retired and I was just wondering, you trained with NASA, did you go up to space though ?

Russell_SR7159 karma

Yea, by others. I am pretty sure most SRs are not being flown. I am pretty sure that the cost of operations was the killer when Defence budgets were reduced. No for Space, I did not think that was real flying. I guess I was old school and never got over it.

dsg280636 karma

What was the selection process to become the pilot?

Russell_SR7173 karma

Astronaut physical, good flying record, and the squadron crews felt you would fit in.

DevoxNZ33 karma

How do you pronounce your last name?

Russell_SR7133 karma


dichter4ward2730 karma

Russell thank you for doing this AMA. The SR71 is knows to have a cargo bay some say bomb bay. Although technically a reconnaissances aircraft only, were their missions where your cargo bay carried more than just camera equipment?

Russell_SR7145 karma


t_ran_asuarus_rex17 karma

how did you poop? did you pack a lunch for flights?

Russell_SR7133 karma

Held it in. We had space food during flights.

kendallmclennan12 karma

Hey man, you're a legend for doing this! I read that you work for the ADF. What exactly do you do? And can you give us a short summary of your life? Cheers mate

Russell_SR7122 karma

I am a consultant for defence. I cant comment on my life too much, most is classified.