I recently saw an SR-71 Blackbird in a museum, and it had the pilot and co-pilots names painted on it, which got me to thinking:
Roughly speaking, how many pilots are there eligible to fly that “unique” of a type of airplane? (I know the SR-71 is no longer flown and that there were more than 1 in service, but there must be other comparably “unique” airplanes in operation today.)
Are there only a handful of potential pilots? 50? 100?
Was Goldwater really sufficiently qualified to have flown the SR-71? I mean, I guess he had to have been or they wouldn’t have let him fly it, but I would think it would require far more specialized training than the average military jet. Did he actually FLY it or did he “just” ride in the backseat?
I did a little digging, and couldn’t find a definitive answer: googling “Barry Goldwater SR-71” mostly yields links describing how the Blackbird was a secret project until the 1964 presidential campaign, when Lyndon Johnson, facing criticism from Goldwater over not focusing on defense, revealed it.
However, Goldwater was, indeed, a military pilot: in WWII, he flew for the Army Air Force’s Ferry Command. After the war, he remained an active pilot in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve until the 1960s, and his Wikipedia entry indicates that he flew 165 different aircraft, including the B-52. That said, I would strongly suspect it was more of a VIP ride, as carnivorousplant notes.
For what it’s worth, when I was in the Air Force, air crew typically had their names printed on one of the air planes of the type they were qualified to fly, but often flew in air planes other than the one with their name on it. When I first went on flight status, my name was on a T-38. Later, maybe a year or so before I got out, my name was on the rear seat in a “B” model F-16. My base was a testing base, so all of our pilots maintained currency in two different airplanes. As an aerial photographer, I maintained currency in 3 fighters, and was eligible to fly a 4th on an as needed basis, plus a helicopter as needed.
I just read another forum where this same question came up.The bottom line was that a plane might have your name on it but the actual aircraft you flew on any given day was luck of the draw. One responder said he almost never flew “his” plane.