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What does it take to become a pilot?  Join us as Richard Graham gives us insight into his inspiring pilot journey. Col Richard Graham SR71 Inspired Pilot Podcast episode 23

After his first solo flight in 1962 with his father as the instructor, Rich Graham was hooked on a flying career. After 25 years in the United States Airforce flying the T-37, 33, 38, F-4, SR-71, U-2, KC-135Q aircraft, he retired in 1989. He flew at American Airlines for 13 years and was a Captain on the MD-80. With a total flying time of 14,437 hours precisely, Richard is currently an instructor at the McKinney Airport in Texas United States and is a member of the Dallas FAASTeam

Starting Out

  • His father, who was a Navy pilot, would keep his flying gear (helmet and flight suit) in a closet and told Richard and his brother never to touch what was inside. Kids being kids, the brothers would peek and this is where Richard got his inspiration to learn how to fly. 
  • He worked in a local airport in Pennsylvania. He would cut grass and wash, wax, and refuel airplanes. Instead of getting paid, he earned flying hours from his father. He was able to acquire his licence at 18 years old.
  • Acquired his Twin Engine Rating when he was in college, with a job flying tyres from Ohio to Detroit.
  • He joined the ROTC program while also in college and then decided to join the USAF.

Initial Training Challenges

  • Being trained by his father was quite challenging for Richard because his father was very demanding about flying the airplane in a very precise manner.

The Aircraft Types Inspired Pilot Podcast episode 23 Richard Graham SR-71 Pilot 1974 (2)

Best Flying Advice

  • “Keep working back to the perfect.”

The Journey

  • Richard volunteered for the Vietnam war. He trained for nine months and was assigned at Udorn, Thailand with the Triple Nickel Squadron and flew an F-4. The unconventional rules of engagement during the war that sometimes frustrated him. Inspired Pilot Podcast Episode 23 Richard Graham Myself and Don Flying the SR-71 1977
  • Went to Kadena Airbase in Okinawa, Japan to become a flight instructor and evaluator for the F-4 and also flew missions to provide nuclear capability at CCK Airbase in Taiwan for at least a year.
  • After flying the F-4 for 4 years, Richard was curious with other aircraft and that’s when he saw the SR-71 flying over Japan.  In 1972 he applied to fly the SR-71 and he luckily got accepted to the training program.
  • Upon qualifying to fly the SR-71, Richard’s mission ranged from different parts of the globe including along the borders of North Korea and Russia in Murmansk and Vladivostok.
  • He became SR-71 Squadron Commander and eventually Wing Commander for the SR-71 and U-2 Reconnaissance fleet. After retiring from the military, he flew for American Airlines for 13 years.

Current Flying

  • Currently teaching at McKinney airport for two flying clubs. Inspired Pilot Podcast Episode 23 Richard Graham Flight Instructor 2002-Present

Proudest Flying Moment

  • Saving two people who got shot down from being captured in Vietnam.
  • Finishing the nine-month training and successfully getting around the SR-71 course.

Future Plans & Aspirations

  • Writing books, currently on his fifth book.
  • Continue with his speaking engagements in aviation and engineering communities around the globe.

Flying Internet Resource

  • Mastery Flight Training: A once in a month newsletter about private pilot mastery and aviation safety by Master CFI, Thomas P. Turner.

Best Aviation Books

Designed at the height of the Cold War, the SR-71 Blackbird was and still is the world’s fastest air-breathing aircraft. The SR-71 is a mysterious plane that has an ardent and always growing popularity. Flying at heights up to 15 miles, the SR-71 conducted top secret photographic missions over hostile nations.

Favourite Cockpit Gadget

  • E6B Computer: These flight computers are used during flight planning (on the ground before takeoff) to aid in calculating fuel burn, wind correction, time en route, and other items. In the air, the flight computer can be used to calculate ground speed, estimated fuel burn and updated estimated time of arrival. The back is designed for wind vector solutions, i.e., determining how much the wind is affecting one’s speed and course (from wikipedia).

Interview Links

Richard has currently authored 5 books based on the SR-71, each one focusing on different aspects of the magnificent SR-71 Aircraft.

Richard’s Lastest Title:

The Complete Book of the SR-71: The Complete Book of the SR-71 Blackbird/The Illustrated Profile of Every Aircraft, Crew, and Breakthrough of the World’s Fastest Stealth Jet.

The Complete Book of the SR-71 Richard Graham








Other SR-71 Books Authored By Richard:
SR-71 Revealed: The Untold Story Richard Graham  Sr-71 Blackbird: Stories, Tales and Legends Richard Graham Flying the SR-71 Blackbird: on a Secret Operational Mission: On a Secret Operational Mission SR-71 Revealed: The Untold Story By Richard Graham


Richard Graham in Pilot Training, Craig AFB ’64


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