Retired pilot to share his adventures

ANGOLA, Ind. – A retired United States Air Force colonel who has flown more than 750 hours in the world's fastest and highest-flying aircraft is sure to thrill the audience when he shares his experiences next week at Trine University.

Col. Richard Graham is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 18, in Fabiani Theatre in the Rick L. and Vicki L. James University Center. His visit is sponsored by the Wade Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the Allen School of Engineering & Technology. Everyone is invited to attend the free speech.

During his 25 years of military service, Graham flew 4,600 hours and recorded 756 hours in the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, an aircraft capable of flying at more than three times the speed of sound – that's more than 2,200 mph.

"Trine is truly fortunate to have Col. Graham share his experiences with us. He is an accomplished Air Force pilot and a wonderful historian of the SR-71 program," said Jamie Canino, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Wade Department who invited Graham to campus. "His speech will make the SR-71 come alive so the audience can better understand this marvelous aircraft and the engineers who built it."

His presentation links the world of engineering with aviation and gives the audience a better understanding of the outside-the-box thinking by Kelly Johnson, the aircraft engineer who led the SR-71 development team.

The SR-71, known as the Blackbird, was first built in secrecy at Lockheed Skunk Works in Palmdale, Calif., and flew in April 1962. The Air Force used the aircraft from 1966 to 1998.

Graham received his Air Force wings in 1965 at Craig Air Force Base (AFB) in Alabama. He remained at Craig as a T-37 instructor pilot and flight examiner until 1970. After completing F-4 Phantom fighter training, he flew 210 combat missions over North Vietnam and Laos from 1971 to 1972 and as a Wild Weasel pilot from 1972 to 1973. During the Vietnam War, project Wild Weasel pilots flew jets equipped with radar to detect Soviet surface-to-air missiles, according to Air Force Magazine.

In 1974, Graham was selected to enter the SR-71 strategic reconnaissance program at Beale AFB in California and he flew the SR-71 for the next seven years. In 1980, he began serving as the squadron commander of the SR-71 unit at Beale, where he remained until his assignment to the Air War College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Ala.

Before retiring in 1989, Graham was assigned to the Pentagon and promoted in 1984 to the rank of colonel. After his promotion, he served in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, working closely on budgetary matters with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Air Staff.

In 1986, Graham was the vice wing commander at Beale AFB and in 1987 he was selected to be the 9th Wing commander. During that time, he was privileged to be able to fly the SR-71, U-2, T-38 and KC-135Q concurrently, for more than two years.

He retired from the Air Force in 1989. His military decorations include three Legion of Merit awards, four Distinguished Flying Cross medals and 19 Air Medals.

Upon retirement from the Air Force, he joined American Airlines in Dallas. After flying 13 years with American, he retired in August 2002 as a captain on the MD-80 aircraft with more than 7,500 hours.

Graham is currently a check pilot with the Civil Air Patrol and volunteers as a Federal Aviation Administration representative on its safety team in Dallas.

He has written four books, "SR-71 Revealed," "SR-71 Blackbird: Stories, Tales, and Legends," "Flying the SR-71 Blackbird" and "SR-71: The Complete Illustrated History of the Highest, Fastest Plane." After the talk, audience members will have the opportunity to purchase copies of his book and have them autographed by Graham.

Graham graduated from the University of Akron, Akron, Ohio in 1964. He received a master's degree in sociology in 1977 and in public administration in 1979 from Pepperdine University, Los Angeles.

Col. Graham was the 1999 recipient of the University of Nebraska's William F. Shea Award for his distinguished contribution to aviation. In 2005, the Blackbird Association awarded him the Kelly Johnson trophy, a lifetime achievement award for his work to perpetuate, foster and improve the SR-71.

Interesting facts:

  • Abstract: "SR-71 Blackbird – An Engineering Marvel" The world's fastest and highest flying aircraft was conceived as early as 1958 by the renowned aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson. The gigantic leap in technology he and his engineers had to overcome at the Lockheed Skunk Works was phenomenal.
  • The Blackbird is a twin-engine, two-seat, supersonic strategic reconnaissance aircraft; the airframe constructed largely of titanium and its alloys; vertical tail fins are constructed of a composite (laminated plastic-type material); Pratt and Whitney J58 (JT11D-20B) turbojet engines feature large inlet shock cones.
  • From 1967 to 1990, the SR-71 served seven U.S. presidents, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon and other government agencies. It provided the necessary intelligence to make crucial political and military decisions during the Cold War era.
  • The Blackbird's only purpose was to gather highly classified intelligence on hostile countries around the world. Flying at Mach 3+ speeds and cruising at over 85,000 feet, the SR-71 could survey over 100,000 square miles every hour, gathering millions of bits of intelligence.
  • Blackbirds are on display throughout the country with the closest locations at Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton.