Bret and Laura M.’s mural on their 1993 Isuzu Trek is definitely different that most of the murals seen on Safari Treks – or anywhere else in fact. The mural is about aviation, and a very specific and secretive area of our country’s aviation.
Bret was very interested in knowing the story behind his mural, as he was involved in the SR-71 and the U-2 (spy plane) programs for many years. They stumbled on this motorhome in their general search for an Isuzu Trek and as Bret says, “WOW is it appropriate.”
“What you are seeing is a mural of an SR-71 carrying a D-21 drone (for the purist out there, the aircraft is a modified YF-12 called an M-21 – also called the “blackbird”). This was a program where we (the USA) launched a mach 5 unmanned drone from the back of a Mach 3 SR-71 to spy on the bad guys back in the 60’s.”
In July of 2011, Bret posted a picture and what he knew of the mural on TrekTracks:
“Our Mural is a bit unique. It was painted in 93 by Randy Nagle from Vanetia, Oregon. It is a tribute to a man named Ray Torick who was fatally injured in July 1966 while attempting to launch a D-21 drone from the back of an M-21 (SR-71) aircraft. We have been trying to find some history as to who had it painted, etc. but so far nothing. We are especially interested as I was involved in the SR program, knew of this accident and had met the pilot of that flight, Bill Park.”
Soon after, they received a call from the artist, Randy Nagle. They learned that on July 30, 1966 an accident occurred where the drone collided with the mother ship (the SR-71) and cut it in half and a man named Ray Torick drowned after successful ejection from the aircraft (the pilot Bill Parks survived). All of the above occurred at 80,000+ feet and Mach 3+ (about 2,200 MPH). Ray Torick was 30 years old when this accident occurred. Ray’s widow, Louise, had the mural painted when she purchased the Trek in 1993.
Bret says that as amazing as all the above is, the real interesting part to him is that he was involved in the program and although not in the time of Ray’s accident, he was well aware of the story.
According to the website, http://www.area51specialprojects.com, this was the second A-12 to be converted to an M-21 for launching the D-21 reconnaissance drone. During a flight test on 30 July 1966 for launching the drone, the drone pitched down and struck the M-21, breaking it in half. Pilot Bill Park and LCO (Launch Control Officer) Ray Torick stayed with the plane a short time before ejecting over the Pacific Ocean. Both made safe ejection, but Ray Torick opened his helmet visor by mistake and his suit filled up with water which caused him to drown.
This terrible personal and professional loss drove Kelly Johnson to cancel the M-21/D-21program. This accident also prompted water survival training by the A-12 pilots based at Groom Lake. Under the supervision of 1129th SAS commander Col. Hugh Slater, the pilots, wearing their flight suits, were lifted high above the waters of Lake Mead on a parasail being towed by the United States Coast Guard. The training was quickly aborted when some of the fully suited pilots almost drowned after dropping from the parasail into the water.
If you are a member of the NWTFC and have an interesting story you would like to share for our new section “Member Stories”, please email me at NWTFCwebmaster@gmail.com.