On July 28, 1976, Eldon W. Joersz officially became the fastest man in the world, when he flew his U.S. Air Force SR-71 Blackbird at an astonishing 2,194 mph — a record that still stands today.
Flying with George Morgan as reconnaissance systems officer, Joersz flew 2,193.64 mph over a 25-kilometer straight-line course 80,600 feet about Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California.
“I’m honored to help remember this great airplane and the men who flew her, designed her, built her, and those who maintained and supported her,” said 72-year-old General Joersz (retired) from his home near Dallas. “The visionary for these records was Wing Commander John Storrie. And the other guy was Jim Sullivan, squadron commander at the time. Jim Sullivan was the SR-71 pilot that flew New York to London in 1 hour, 54 minutes in 1974.”
In 1976 the decision was made by Storrie and Sullivan to set the world absolute speed record.
Flying at Mach 3.3, the SR-71’s engine temperature approached 427° Celsius. Their speed was measured by highly sophisticated radar.
Once through the box, they had to turn and complete another run through the box at the same altitude. An average of the two speeds was taken, and that was the record speed.
“After we went through the second time, after a minute or two, control came up and said, ‘Unofficially, the record is 2,194 mph’. They knew what it was right away,” Joersz said.
Inside the cockpit they were elated – although a little disappointed they hadn’t gone even faster.
“Our informal goal between the two of us was for 2,200 mph. So actually, we were quietly a little disappointed that we’d missed it by 7 mph!”
Forty years on General Joersz is still asked to speak about setting the FAI Absolute World Record for Speed. He will be appearing at the Museum of Aviation in Georgia to mark the 40th anniversary of the record flight, and is due to be interviewed by CNN.
At the time however, Joersz had no idea his morning’s work would still be of interest four decades later.
“Truthfully, for us at the time it was just a fun thing to do,” he said. “We just felt really fortunate to be the guys getting to fly the airplane.”