Eldon W. Joersz
Eldon W Joersz officially became the fastest man in the world when he flew his US Air Force Blackbird plane at an astonishing 3,529.56km/h (2,194 mph) on 28 July 1976.
The record was set flying from an airbase in Southern California. Along with reconnaissance systems officer George Morgan, Joersz hit an incredible 3,529.56km/h (2,193.64mph) over a steady 25km straight-line course.
Covering almost 1km every second, and at 80,600ft, the pair flew at Mach 3.3 above Edwards Air Force Base. They were flying the legendary SR-71 Lockheed Blackbird, a long-range strategic reconnaissance aircraft operated by the US Air Force for three decades.
Flying three times faster than sound and with an engine temperature approaching 427-degrees Celsius, Joersz and Morgan had to fly a straight-line 25km-long course. Their speed was measured by highly sophisticated radar.
Once through the box, they had to turn and complete another run through the box at the same altitude. The average of the two speeds was taken, and that was the record speed.
Speaking from his home near Dallas in 2016 in the week before the 40th anniversary of the flight, General Joersz (retired), said: “After we went through the second time, control came up and said, 'Unofficially, the record is 2,194mph’. They knew what it was right away."
Inside the cockpit they were elated – although a little disappointed they hadn’t gone even faster.
“Our informal goal between the two of us was for 2,200 mph. So actually, we were quietly a little disappointed that we'd missed it by 7 mph!”
At the time however, Joersz had no idea his morning’s work would still be of interest more than forty years later.
“Truthfully, for us at the time it was just a fun thing to do. We just felt really fortunate to be the guys getting to fly the airplane.”
During his career in the United States Air Force, Joersz held several positions, including instructor; pilot during the Vietnam War; and Wing Commander. His awards include the Defence Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Defence Meritorious Service Medal.
Joersz began his education in Hazen, North Dakota. From there, he graduated from North Dakota State University in 1966 with an ROTC commission and received his master's degree from Auburn University in 1978. He retired from the US Air Force in 1997.