El Paso SR-71 (970) crash site (March 2006)
by JimK

Click to enlargeI had a friend once who decided to go hunting. At 6am the season started. At 6:02 he had a deer. He never went hunting again.

The same kind of thing happened with me when I went after 970 which went down near El Paso, Texas. It won't stop me from looking for old airplane sites, though. I did some research, looked on Terraserver for likely sites, put the best of them in my GPS and headed south.

On the way I saw a sign for the War Eagles Air Museum (about 20 miles north of El Paso) and decided it was worth a detour. It turned out to be definitely worth it. They had a couple of P-51's, the first P-38 I'd ever seen, three Migs, and several other aircraft, mostly of WWII or Korean War vintage. The guy at the front desk told me most of them are flyable. One of the P-51's is opened up so you can see the engine and the machine guns in the wing. There are ladders at several of the planes to let you see inside the cockpits.

Back to finding 970. After getting off the pavement there were several miles of gravel roads but nothing difficult. Pretty much it was just flat featureless desert. When I got to where the GPS said I should be I got out of the car and found some kind of aircraft metal within ten feet. A few more feet off the road and I started finding titanium. Upon leaving I took that first too-easy piece of metal and tossed it further away from the road.

Click to enlargeThere was a good chunk of a tire with the silvery sidewalls, a brake rotor bent in half and another broken completely in half. I found a couple of turbine blades pieces, wire, fibreglas and lots of titanium although nothing very big. In the center of the burn area is an area with just about nothing. I suspect this was the original crater which has since filled in.

My GPS died. I looked around for the car and could not see it. I was using rechargeable batteries and learned my lesson then and there. Although I had spare batteries with me, it's fresh copper tops from now on.

In the web article "Aspen 29: The Search for 966" the author found a piece of metal with a part number starting 4AF. 4AF must be the designator for the SR-71 because I found a little bracket with 4AF435-3 on it and a twisted piece of titanium with 4AF89 something on it. The something was covered up by another piece of metal riveted on. The bracket has an inspection stamp too but it is so faint it won't photograph. You have to get the light just right. It looks like two parallel lines almost making a circle but instead making a bit of a spiral that is 360 degrees plus about 60 more of overlap. Inside is a kind of upside down T, again made of parallel lines and, below that the number 45.

>Click to enlargeProbably the strangest piece says "MIDAS" on it. Surely the plane doesn't come with mufflers! Internally on an air source, maybe? It also says "FM" , ".5 INS/SEC", "10mA" and "TEST".

On the way back north I went through Alamagordo and stopped at Holloman AFB to photograph their static displays. They have an F-15A, P-80B, F-84F, F-100D, F-104C, F-105D, F-106A, F-4C and an AT-38B. The restorations are beautiful but whoever did the painting didn't mask the ID plate in the nose wheel wells. You can't check the serial numbers.

Wandering around the base I went into a No-Photos-Allowed zone and found an old UH-1B helicopter on display in a White Sands Missle Range paint job. There is also a whole bunch of old F-4's but I couldn't get very close. Possibly they are drones getting ready for that last flight as radio-controlled targets. Back near the main gate the security guys were willing to escort me into the no photo area to take a couple of supervised photos but they thought they should check with someone higher up and that person didn't like the idea. But even he said it might be possible if I came back during the work week and checked with the Public Affairs office.

Alamagordo has a nice Space Museum with a lot of engines, some rockets, etc. There is a chunk of a V-2 rocket (or what's left of it) after impact. I didn't go inside.

Click to enlargeDown in the main part of town I was tooling around looking for static airplane displays when I saw an airplane-looking thing across a park and the railroad tracks. I went over and it was some kind of drone or missle. It had wings and a T-tail and was very much in need of a restoration. At that point my last camera battery died so no more photos. Nearby was a big missle of some kind and across the fenced area there appeared to be an old Nike. I went around the back and the Nike turned out to be some kind of demo. It was made of wood. From that point I could see behind the big missle and there appeared to be a V-1 missle or something very similar next to it. At that point the guard found me. He explained that this was a storage and restoration facility for the Space Museum.

They raise pistacios and wine around Alamagordo – both quite good. The wine I bought was much better than expected.

Going north again I set the GPS to point to the Trinity A-bomb site and tried to see if it could be seen from anywhere along the road. The road goes north on the east side of the site and then turns west taking you on the north side of the site back toward I-25. Possibly from the north—maybe, maybe not.

The War Eagles Air Museum web site is at http://www.war-eagles-air-museum.com/.

Pictures of the crash site are at http://community.webshots.com/myphotos?action=viewAllPhotos&albumID=549037112&security=oQuCOu

Holloman AFB's website is at http://www.holloman.af.mil/. They don't have pictures that I can find of the static displays but they do have some other interesting photos of German Tornados which are based there and F-117's, T-38's and high speed sleds.

"Aspen 29: the Search for 966" is found at http://members.fortunecity.com/aspen29/

And of course the one that started it all for me and many others—"The Hunt for 928" by Tom Mahood can be found at http://www.dreamlandresort.com/trip_reports/hunt_928/index.htm.

The story of #970 can be found on the X-Hunters web site at http://www.thexhunters.com/xpeditions/sr-71a_970.html.

Peter Merlins article OXCART Down! - Searching for the remains of a secret spy plane can be found here on the Dreamland Resort web site. Click here


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