Blackbird’s Revenge

(U.S. Air Force/Released)

A while back, I came across a fantastic recollection from a former SR-71 pilot of the United States Air Force about his experience at an airshow in England in the 1980s. It’s just too good not to share…

“I was the pilot in this video, but did not fly the SR-71 out of RAF Greenham Common. I was the “mobile control” officer when the aircraft departed and the pilot was Maj Jim Jiggens, a USAF Thunderbird pilot and formally a US Army helicopter combat pilot in Vietnam.
On the evening of the air show featured in this video, women, who were protesting President Reagan’s decision to station intermediate nuclear missiles in England, broke into the security cordon around the air show aircraft and threw paint on several, including this SR-71.
Owing to the unique metals associated with the SR-71, the removing of the paint required special maintenance procedures to assure that no “hot spot” would develop on subsequent flights. It was quite a hassle and we were not amused over this incident.

Jim and I planned a farewell departure for the protesters who were encamped in a squalor of tents just outside the main gate. Jim obtained clearance for a “closed pattern” and turned to a downwind leg, descended to about 100 feet above the ground, and flew directly over the protesters’ encampment. It was early and probably most were asleep, but not for long.
Jim was flying about 250 knots and selected afterburner in both engines as he was approaching the tents. As the SR-71 accelerated to 350-400 knots, he pulled up and focused the plume (and noise) directly on the protesters. It was a magnificent sight.

I also had the honor to prefer charges against the women, but the British government later declined to prosecute.”

Lt.Col B.C. Thomas, USAF

Below is a video of the Blackbird involved, but not of the actual paint-throwing incident.

Now if you don’t believe the above, there is indeed confirmation from an independent source. On page 110 of “SR-71 Revealed: The Inside Story” by Richard H. Graham:

In July of 1985, an SR-71 was flown to [England], on static display for visiting King Hussein of Jordan. The very next day, British nuclear protesters threw paint on the SR-71. There was no permanent damage to the aircraft. Several days later crews flew “low” passes over the protesters tents near [the RAF air base]. Rumor had it that several tents were leveled and hearing problems lasted for hours afterwards.”


7 thoughts on “Blackbird’s Revenge

  1. On a UK base in the mid60s I flew a “Special Weapons” mission with our Special load for the SR-71 in an so-equipped C-124C and parked on the hot spot, mid day. The load master lowered it quickly via the cargo bomb-bay elevator to the cement. Our wings extended out over the hot spot area grass. Armed security was all around. Just as the load was to be taken off the elevator platform,,, a lil’blue tractor passed under our wing… cutting the grass! I guess the grass cutter guy never knew what he saw was TS or for the 71. Or carried.


  2. I was stationed at RAF Greenham Common from 1983 till 1985. Got there just after the Air Show. It was still a “hot topic” and everybody talked about it. We got briefed about it regarding our interactions with the protesters. Strictly hands off. A security policeman who was working detail around the plane said he came very close to letting his dog “handle” them when they came running towards it, but figured at the last minute he’d be in more trouble if the dog attacked them. Probably very true given my encounters with them. I had an incident where they painted up the Launch Control Center vehicle I was driving, after they pushed a car in front of our convoy. Couldn’t do anything and the British police weren’t doing anything till my team mate riding shotgun got on the radio and reported they were there but they “weren’t doing sh__.” Then they made haste to yank them off and show them the other use for the helmets they wear. I gave a statement to the British police but nothing was done. I heard about the “Blackbird’s Revenge” from people who were there and of course it was legend! Glad to have it confirmed not to be an urban legend. It was also rumored that the whole incident ruined the Wing Commander’s chance to get a star…


  3. Well, the protesters should have throwed Molotov’s cocktails instead of paint, singing “US go home” 😉


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