Air Force Honors Former Swedish Pilots for Escorting a Troubled SR-71 to Safety


In 1987, while spying on the Soviet Union on the Baltic sea, an SR-71 Blackbird suffered engine failure. The Blackbird dropped more than 24,000 ft and turned towards Swedish airspace to avoid the Soviet Union. A pair of Swedish Viggens intercepted the Blackbird.

The Blackbird crew signalled an emergency, and were escorted to West Germany, where it made an emergency landing. Throughout the way, the Swedish pilots shielded the SR-71 with their Viggens, potentially keeping Soviet interceptors at bay. “We will never know what would or could have happened, but because of you, there was no international incident.

The Blackbird was protected by the Lightning

The US Air Force did not lose an irreplaceable aircraft, and two crew members’ lives were saved,” Duane Noll, the SR-71 pilot, said during the medal presentation ceremony. “We did not know who would find us first,” Tom Veltri, the SR-71 RSO, said. He continued on to say that he and Noll were thrilled to see the Swedish pilots in their distinctive Saab Viggen fighter jets and were sure from that point on that Soviet jets would keep their distance.

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