July 28: Eldon Joersz Speed Record
Eldon Wayne Joersz was born in 1944 to Henry and Kathryn Joersz and raised in Hazen, North Dakota. Eldon’s father was a baker, and the family lived near the bakery in a small house along an alley.
Eldon graduated from Hazen High School in 1962 from the old brick 3 story building where all the grades were together. He went to college at NDSU, finishing in 1966 with an ROTC Commission, then entering the US Air Force, becoming a jet pilot. During the Vietnam War, he flew the F-105 Thunderchief fighter bomber.
Eldon rose through the ranks and held many positions including instructor for the T-38 Talon and the SR-71 Blackbird. While in the Air Force, Eldon received a Masters Degree from Auburn University in Alabama.
He went on to command the 410th Bomb Wing of the Eighth Air Force from May 1987 to May 1989. He also led the Strategic Air Command’s 307th and 46th Air refueling Squadrons and the 644th Bombardment Squadron.
On this date in 1976, Eldon broke the all-time speed record for manned airbreathing jet engine aircraft, flying SR-71 Blackbird, Lockheed’s High Altitude Surveillance Jet. The conditions on this day happened to be perfect for taking the aircraft to its limit. Eldon pushed the jet up to 2,193 miles an hour, which is more than 3 times the speed of sound, reaching an altitude of over 80,000 feet. Faster than a rifle bullet, the extreme speed heated the cockpit windows to 622 degrees, despite an air temperature at that altitude of 67 below.
The SR-71 Eldon flew that day is now on permanent display at the Robins Air Force Base Museum near Macon, Georgia.
Eldon retired from the Air Force in 1997 at the rank of Major General.
The record that Eldon broke still stands today, more than 45 years later.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Sources: Bismarck tribune article, May 21, 2008, Retired General to speak at Hazen. SR-71 Blackbird S/N 61-7958 records. Speed Records, US Air Force