Faster than a speeding bullet
North Alabama man was Superman in the sky
Bob Jaques, Special to the Enquirer
Comic book hero Superman was always proclaimed as "flying faster than a speeding bullet," and people were amazed at this analogy because it was impossible to fly that fast.
But Florence native and retired Air Force pilot, LtCol. Ed Yeilding actually flew faster than a speeding bullet in a top secret spy plane called the SR- 71 Blackbird.
Yeilding was selected by the U.S. Air Force to make the final flight of this amazing aircraft from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. when the program was cancelled by Congress. On March 6, 1990, Yeild-ing set four speed records that still stand today. His flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. was an incredible 64 minutes and 20 seconds.
This historic aircraft is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
Yeilding is not Superman, but rather a quiet humble man whose passion is a love of flying. After graduating from Coffee High School in Florence in 1967, he went to Auburn University where he received his commission in the Air Force through the ROTC program. He went on active duty and spent the next 23 years flying such aircraft as the RF-4, the F-4, the SR-71, and the C-20 Gulfstream III, which is used to carry VIP's around the world.
His most unusual assignment was to fly the SR-71 Blackbird for six years, which he flew worldwide on reconnaissance missions, most of which were top secret.
The SR-71, or commonly known as the Blackbird, made its first flight in 1964 and was retired with Yeilding's final flight in 1990.
The Blackbird is unique in aviation history and will probably never be duplicated. Its mission was high-altitude reconnassaince taking pictures with absolute clarity while flying three times faster than sound.
Congress felt satellites could do the same job cheaper, so thay cancelled the funding for the Blackbird program.
How fast does a bullet travel? A 30.06 bullet commonly used by deer hunters averages 3,000 feet per second. The Blackbird at high altitude, usually over 80,000 feet, flies at Mach 3, which is over three times the speed of sound, can travel at 3,100 feet per second.
Asked about flying at such high altitudes, Yeilding said "It was awesome. On each flight you could see the black of space."
Yeilding was picked for the final record-setting flight because of his experience in the Blackbird. He was not only an accomplished pilot of the SR-71, but also an instructor, evaluator, and development test pilot.
Of the 32 Blackbirds made by Lockheed Aircraft Company, only 19 survive at various museums around the United States. Alabama has three of them on display. One is at the USS Alabama site in Mobile; one is at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham; and the other one is at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville.
Lt Col. Yeilding will be making a special appearance at a military show on Saturday, Sept. 8, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. in Huntsville to meet and talk with visitors. The Military Show will be at the Jaycees Building at the old airport.
Today, after an exciting 23-year career in the Air Force, Yeilding continues his flying as a flight officer for Northwest Airlines based in Memphis, Tenn. Yeilding has also been selected by the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame for induction in October.
LtCol. Yeilding is a very private and interesting person. This will be an excellent opportunity for the public to meet a man who actually flew faster than a speeding bullet.