This SR-71 Blackbird cockpit got more flight time than all of the other Blackbird aircraft put together, and every single SR pilot, at one point or another, had their hands on these stick and throttles. This is the one and only SR-71 simulator, used for crew selection and training, on display at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas.
Even though this is a simulator, this is truly a Blackbird cockpit. Every component is the same, and the only visual difference are the windows are not transparent. At one point, the Air Force considered installing a virtual reality display system in the windows, but it was decided that the Blackbird simulator did not need a visual reference to the world surrounding them, because in this bird, you were more of a systems operator than a pilot.
This simulator, operating from 1965 to 1999, was just as top secret as any of the Blackbird aircraft, for obvious reasons. Every Blackbird pilot went through a selection process, and a year of training. During the selection process, applicants spent 30 hours in the simulator. If you were lucky enough to be selected as a pilot, you spent 100 hours in the sim before you would even touch one of the two-seat SR-71B or SR-71C trainer aircraft. This training process was longer and more intensive than any aircraft in the world, excluding the space shuttle. This was because each Blackbird was truly a national asset, and there were so few of them.
Nearly every Blackbird pilot author, at one point or another, has mentioned this simulator in their book. They recount tales of sweating bullets during the selection process, spending hours in the sim at a time, learning hard lessons. They also tell about how good the sim was, and how once they finally flew an actual Blackbird, they felt right at home.
The Frontiers of Flight Museum was gracious enough to let Project Habu inside the cockpit to photograph up close, which is typically not open to the public. It was truly surreal to sit in this cockpit and touch the controls, knowing every one of the pilots whom I admire so much, started right here. You can view the outside of the simulator in a previous post (click here to view).