Troy alumnus Lt. Col. Ed Yeilding spoke at the Troy campus on Nov. 6 about his experience flying the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird spy aircraft and setting the national transcontinental flying speed record of 1 hour, 4 minutes, and 19.89 seconds.
Yeilding obtained his master’s degree in management from Troy University.
“I was actually at the Moody Air Force Base, and professors came from here (Troy) over to the Air Force base, which is in Valdosta, Georgia,” Yeilding said. “I really liked my professors. Courses were interesting.”
Shortly after getting his degree from Troy, Yeilding piloted one of the 32 SR-71 Blackbird airplanes during the Cold War era.
In its 25 years of active service, the plane that was reported to fly faster than a speeding bullet was never shot down, despite advanced radar technology.
Yeilding mentioned flying over the Arctic region during one of his winter missions and seeing three sunrises and three sunsets in less than an hour.
“It was always a great feeling of satisfaction to finish Blackbird missions because we have just flown the world’s most exciting, highest flying, fastest airplane,” he added.
In 1989, Congress decided to retire the Blackbird and the Smithsonian Institution requested one of the Blackbirds for display in the museum.
“J.T. Vida (Co-pilot Joseph T. Vida) and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and asked to fly the Blackbird to the Smithsonian,” he said. “They said, ‘Well, since you’re taking off from California and bringing it to Washington (D.C.), would you mind setting a transcontinental speed record? That will call public’s attention to what a great, great airplane it is.’ ”
On March 6, 1990, Yeilding and Vida flew the Blackbird for the last time, covering 2,299.67 miles between Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., in 64 minutes and 20 seconds.
The record was set in half the time of the preceding record and remains unbroken.
Yeilding flew a total of 785 hours on the Blackbird.
“It was very inspiring just hearing how fast he flew, how knowledgeable he was with the aircraft, and just how many hours he put in,” said Kyle Lemanski, a sophomore athletic training major from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Yeilding also gave some advice for all aspiring pilots who wish to apply for Air Force programs.
“Take every opportunity to fly and learn about flying, but also education is very important,” he said. “Most pilots nowadays have a bachelor’s degree.
“And it’s important to do good schoolwork and get good grades because that will be seen on an application too.”
William Waters, a senior biomedical sciences major from Slocomb and a member of the Troy Air Force ROTC, said that hearing Yeilding speak was an amazing experience for him.
“I always wanted to be a pilot, and hearing him (Yeilding) speak here and hearing some words of wisdom from him, it was all very inspiring,” he said.