The Hunt For SR-71 61-7965


61-7965 Flying Over Beale AFB

Joe Kates and I have become Associate Members of the Roadrunnersinternationale recently. They are a group of men and women who either worked at “The Ranch” or are in some way  connected to the development of the A-12, YF-12 or the U-2. The Roadrunners meet in Las Vegas every two years reuniting, sharing stories and memories of their roles and experiences working at Groom Lake.  They are joined by spouses, associate members and friends to ensure their legacy stays alive and future generations are educated on the program.

[pullquote-right]Preserving the history of the aviation pioneers and programs that developed the U-2, A-12 and YF-12 during the Cold War. The high water marks of aeronautical development.[/pullquote-right]After locating the crash sites for  the SR-71 in Death Valley and the A-12 that crashed returning to Groom Lake I have a new passion for the Blackbirds. How many friends do you have that have actually visited a Blackbird crash site?? For me it was a matter of doing my research, getting in a truck and going out and finding these sites. Sounds easy right!!..It is if you know what you are doing.

I stumbled upon a cool map one day that showed the location of every Blackbird. The ones that are in museums or on display and the ones that have crashed.

Tom who runs the site is is also a Blackbird lover and he helped me figure out where the YF-12 (60-6936) final resting place is inside of North Rogers Dry Lake bed located on Edwards AFB. It’s a location I hope to visit in the future.

There is little information about SR-71 (61-7965)  on the internet that I could find. If you Google about it you will find a couple article about others who found this site. There is only one image that I could find so I created an image of 965 flying over Beale AFB for this story.

This past September I  was in Reno, Nevada  for the Reno Air Races Sept 8-14th. I made plans to leave the races for one day and made my way up to Lovelock, Nevada  and the Trinity Range. I read a few stories on the internet about others that have visited this crash site. Using their past experiences and based on my own I had a pretty good idea about where I thought this crash site to be.  Using Google Earth to try and pin point the crash site for 61-7965 and comparing them to pictures that I sourced up from all over the internet I had a pretty good idea where I was gonna start my search. Or at least I felt pretty confident about where I thought it could be located!!


Lovelock Nevada


Entrance to Trinity Range

Reading over the official crash report I knew that the crash site was 35 miles North of Lovelock and 10 miles west of Oreana. I mapped this out in Google Earth. Narrowing down the search grid down to an area that I would be able to search by myself in a day is the hard part and I won’t give away how I did it. Let’s just say that comparing pictures from the crash scene to the landscape in Google Earth is an art form.


Entrance to BLM Land and Trinity Range


Condition of the Roads

The POI is several miles West of I-80 and its in rolling hills covered in scrub brush. Not truly the desert that most people think of but still harsh enough to make people think twice about trying to find this site. I made the trip in my 2WD Ford F-150 and I bet a small SUV type could do this trip. I did stay on firm dirt roads and I never got off the BLM roads. I knew in advance where I was gonna park my truck and I knew the hike over the rolling hill terrain would be about a mile and be an easy hike for me. I did take a pack with bottled Gatorade and a snack and most importantly my GPS.

Exiting I-80 and heading west you quickly come to the end of the pavement and a open gate at the edge of BLM land. My GPS allows me to draw on a map and create a ‘track’ which acts like a moving map and shows me the exact route to my end way point. This way I do not have to keep looking for the next way point but just drive on the ‘red line’ that appears on the map. I have found this is the best way for me to explore the Nevada Desert. If I can draw it on a map I can use my GPS to get me there. Checking things in Google Earth allows me to get the closest point where I can  start my hike.

I turned off road and headed west for what would be about a 30 minute drive. I took it slow and easy not wanting to get into a situation that I would have trouble getting out of. I normally do my trips solo so I had to be extra careful. No one was able to get free to go on this trip with me. The landscape did not seem all the intimidating and compared to other treks I have made in Nevada this one seemed more inviting. I was gonna enjoy this day!!


Wash Driving


Almost There..

The difference on this trip is that you never lost site of the highway. I could see trucks traffic down on the interstate for most of the drive. This gave me the assurance that if trouble arose that I was not that far off the roadway. As usual I wanted to be in and out before night fall.

I could see recent tire tracks in the dirt road as I drove along my ‘track’ on the GPS. I wondered how many people actually came out here. What was the reason that people came out this far. To escape for awhile and get away or did these people actually know what was out here like I did? I wondered when was the last time any one visited the crash site?

The road for the most part is very good. There is one short 1/2 mile section where you are driving in a shallow wash. Nothing to worry about as there had been no recent rain. There are a few high areas where I would stop and take a GPS heading to note the distance to the POI. Confident is high!!

At last I was at the end of the ‘track’. I drove around a few times to look for a firm spot to park my truck. The surrounding area around the road is hard packed so backing up and turning around was easy I managed to find a high spot to park my truck in order to make it easier to located it from a distance. You never know when the GPS might die.

When I had left my house I felt I had the location of the POI down to within a few hundred feet. I had also printed some photos off the web in order to  look at them when I was in the general area.

When I started from the truck I figured it to be a twenty minute hike. I took a GPS location for the ‘truck’ so that I would not get separated. Off I went  up and down over a few hillsides in the direction of what looked like the area in the photos. Knowing that there would be a a lot of walking to bring the scene closer to me motivated me on my hike. I made good time and got to the way point for the point of impact that I had in my GPS. It did looked a lot like what was in the photos… and I got more excited. But what I did not realized was that I was still one hill over from the actual spot. I trudged around for ten minutes not finding anything, wondering if the day was gonna be a bust until I figured it out. I crested the next hill and then the scene looked right.

I took a few steps down the hillside and after another fifty feet I looked down and there it was….my first find.. a piece of Titanium.


Point of Impact looking South-West


Point of Impact looking North-East

At first I walked around looking at the various pieces of Titanium. I entered from the South-East side of the poi so I was finding Titanium and there was a lot. But after walking completely around what eventually turned out to be the center of the crash crater I found a lot more concentrated on the other side.

This has to be the best preserved crash site. That is if you can called it preserved. More like unmolested!! There is literally several hundred shards of metal on the ground. Nothing like I have ever seen. I had seen the old Black and White aerial photo of the crash crater and having read in the crash report that the aircraft was on westerly heading when it flew almost straight into the ground. I soon realize that there was way more debris on the South side of the POI.

I found Items I had never seen at previous Black Bird sites. Here I managed to find and photograph items that ranged from parachute fragments and strapping to pieces of the Aluminum embedded tires. One item I found looked to be a instrument cluster switch that had push buttons. There were lots of pieces that were unidentifiable. Broken collars from the fuel system and twisted pieces of internal bracing. I also found a blade of some sort. Too small to be a engine compressor blade and no identifying part numbers. What was absent is any of the usual black painted skin and the paper/fiber board with red RTV that I usually find at crash sites. This site has it’s own persona.

I spent about a hour surveying the site and I took a few GPS makers. I took photos of interesting items. I found a few places where the concentration of debris was very high. I did not place these items close together and the pictures shows how I found it.

For visual references I placed my black backpack and hiking stick in the center of POI for the photos. I did do a wide shot of the area and you can clearly see what is the crater even forty-seven years later. The concentration of the ground must be higher as even the grass growing over the crater is a lot browner than the surroundings area.


Old Road to Crash Site


Parked Here and Hiked

When I felt like I had visited the poi long enough I made my peace with the aircraft and bid her farewell. I am not sure I will ever get another chance to visit with her but this was a great day in the Nevada Desert!! I enjoyed my time there and I felt like I had a small victory. I had located 965 on my first trip in and I did it with minimal effort. I felt accomplished and thrilled. I had found it!!

Preparing for this trip was the easy part. I had spent weeks getting reading. It is way easier to sit at my computer looking for the poi than actually in the desert wasting time and money. The trip from Reno took two hours and a bit of gas but the end result was well worth it!!

As with my past stories I have left out details intentionally. I want to protect the location of the crash site. There has been people that visited before me and I’m sure many with visit after me. Reading this story could get you in the general area. I have not included anything more that what is already on the internet. I did leave out lots of details that would make the trip easy. I did my work to find it and therefore I can’t make it easy for you!! Hopefully you enjoyed reading this and are happy to know that there is still a preserved SR-71 crash site out there.

Lots of credit goes out to Peter Merlin and Tony Moore. They originally discover 61-7965’s location. If it were not for his story’s and books I would not have try to locate it myself. Thanks Pete!!

Good article of the accident here..

Visit the Roadrunners website..


Dave Budd

Hi..I'm Dave. Webmaster here at Photorecon. The boss also laughs and says I'm the Chief Photographer. I live in Las Vegas and I cover most of the West Coast events with Joe. I do most of the upkeep of the site.

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