Ron Girouard Jim Eastham Bob Gilliland
The photo above depicts me posing with fellow Roadrunners, Jim Eastham ,
and Bob Gilliland at the last Roadrunner reunion.
Jim Eastman was the first to fly the YF-12 and Bob Gilliland was the first to
fly the SR-71. Both were Lockheed test pilots.
This is me and my wife, Donna, at the 2001 Road Runners Reunion.
I finally managed to drag her along to one of these events!
I am letter carrier in Lafayette, Louisiana. I've been a huge
aviation buff all my life, the A-12, YF-12, and SR-71 Blackbird fascinating me
like no other aircraft. During the last 15 years, I have collected over 200
patches, some being the rarest patches ever made during the Oxcart and
Blackbird programs. Although many of my fellow Roadrunners deserve credit for
supplying me with patches, special thanks go to Bob Williams, a navigator with
the 903rd AREFS during OXCART and Operation Black Shield, the only unit to
refuel the A-12; Jerry Hogan, a HRB-Singer Co. tech rep for the IR systems
used on 665A hardware of the SR-71; Don Byrnes, a member of the 665A; Denny
Sullivan, one of the first agency pilots of the A-12; Slip Slater, former
commander at Groom Lake and pilot of the 500th flight of the A-12; and Frank
Murray, one of the agency pilots of the A-12.
At 90,000 feet, the curvature of the earth is visible. Above the cockpit,
it's pitch black. Cruising speed is 2,200 mph, yet there's absolutely no
sensation of speed. A counter in the cockpit clicks off a mile every two
seconds. "Can you imagine that?" asked Ronald Girouard. "A
mile every two seconds. That's Mach III-plus."
Girouard, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier from Carencro, is a self-proclaimed
aviation nut. For the past 20 years, he has focused his attention primarily on
what he considers the best aircraft ever created - the SR-71 Blackbird spy
plane. For two decades, he has collected patches, models, crash fragments, mugs,
flight scarves - anything to do with one of the most technologically advanced
aircrafts in aviation history. "This one particular aircraft has just
fascinated me like no other," Girouard said. "What (creator) Kelly
Johnson was able to do .... in the '60s was just phenomenal. Even today, nobody's
come close. Nobody."
Girouard laid out pieces of his collection on his dining room table. His
favorite patches sat next to three models, each one representing an incarnation
of the spy plane's development. To the left, Girouard explained, was a model of
the A-12, a single-seater flown exclusively by the CIA from 1962-1968. The CIA
would deny the plane's existence until 1982.
To the right was a model of the YF-12A, a two-seater equipped with air-to-air
missiles. Finally, Girouard pointed to the SR-71 model. The pure reconnaissance
aircraft flew from 1964 until 1998, after President Bill Clinton vetoed funding
for the SR program.
At one time, one of Girouard's fellow postal employees, a collector of Vietnam
memorabilia, kept pushing Girouard to expand his Blackbird collection to include
patches. "For Christmas one year, he bought me four reproductions of
patches," Girouard said. "He told me 'This starts your collection,
now go.' I naively thought, Blackbird; they only made 50 of them total. It was
only operated out of a couple of bases. There can't be many patches for it.
That's been going on for 20 years now."
Girouard has hundreds of Blackbird patches in his collection, many of them
personally mailed or handed to him by pilots who actually flew the aircraft.
He's missing 75 that he is aware of, and his current collection is valued
somewhere between $5,000 and $7,000.
"This is the holy grail of patches," Girouard said, pointing to a
circular patch stitched with the outline of a swan labeled "Cygnus."
Back then, Blackbird wasn't around. One of the pilots asked what they called
(the plane). The government called the A-12 'the Article' or the 'Oxcart,'
which were codenames. One pilot came up with the nickname Cygnus, which means
Girouard turned to a binder neatly organized with hundreds of photographs. He
turned to the photo he had in mind in a matter of seconds. "See, it used to be
painted like a swan," he said tracing the distinct, swan-like color scheme
with his finger.
The photos are mostly from one of Girouard's friends who is a NASA photographer
at California's Edwards Air Force Base - a Blackbird base. He called me up one day and
goes, 'you know every time they change (the Blackbird) tires they just throw
them away...do you want one?" Girouard explained. "I asked how much
it'd cost me and he told me, "whatever it costs to ship it to you."
The main landing gear tire that Girouard now owns is silver. Girouard explained
that on the plane, the tire is impregnated with an aluminum powder and filled
with nitrogen. At high altitudes, regular oxygen is highly combustible. The
silver coloration dissipates heat, which is important for maintaining the tire's
structural integrity. "When this aircraft would fly at 85,000 feet and
2,200 miles per hour, the outside air temperature may be 100 degrees below
zero,"Girouard said. "But because of the friction created from this
thing just moving through the atmosphere, some parts of the aircraft would
actually heat up to 1,500 degrees - regular rubber would just melt."
Girouard said he dreamed of becoming a pilot in his youth, but his eyesight
wasn't up to the Air Force Academy's standards. "For a couple years before I got hired by the post office, I
worked for an oil company in their aviation department," he said. "I
got to go flying three four five times a week. If somebody ever asked if I
wanted to go flying, I was there."
At one point, one of Girouard's fellow employees bought a two-seat, highly
aerobatic biplane called a Pit Special. Girouard's friend took him up one day
and performed a full aerobatic routine. "To this day I think that's the
most fun I've ever had," Girouard said. "It was just awesome."
Ronald Girouard said his SR-71 collection, which now includes models, toys and
videos, began solely with reference books. He stays in contact with former SR-71
pilots through groups dedicated to the spy plane.
On June 4, 2008 Ron Girouard donated the large display during the Roadrunner's and CIA's 40th anniversary tribute to CIA A-12 pilot Jack Weeks.
RS-70 & RS-71
Camera @ Sensor
903rd Air Refueling
Squadron, Beale AFB
Groom Lake - 500th
Training Flight of A-12
Okinawa Pilots exceeding
Mach 3 in A-12 during
Operation Black Shield
Flight Suit Patches of
Agency A-12 Pilot
Dennis Sullivan & Frank Murry
903rd Air Refueling
Squadron for A-12s
Shield in Okinawa
Flight Research Center
World Speed Record
Have a patch to contribute to this page on the Roadrunner web site,
contact me or the Roadrunner webmaster
See a broken link or error, have a story or photo to add - please email the webmaster - - Page last modified 08/08/2008