celebrated aviator dies at 75 – .

Brian Shul was a Vietnam-era attack pilot who barely survived being shot down, only to come back as a celebrated SR-71 pilot before becoming an acclaimed public speaker and photographer. 

Brian Shul’s legacy 

Born in Quantico, Virginia, Shul joined the U.S. Air Force right after graduating from East Carolina University in 1970 and was quickly thrown into action. Between 1970 and 1973, he flew 212 combat missions over and around Vietnam. His streak of successful missions came to an end in 1973, however, when his aircraft was shot down near the Cambodian border. Shul was unable to eject and crashed into the jungle still inside his aircraft. He was severely burned in the explosive impact, but he managed to survive in the jungle while evading enemy patrols until a rescue mission arrived. 

Shul returned to flying just two days after being released from the hospital. He went on to pilot the SR-71 Blackbird, one of the most iconic aircraft in history, where he cemented his reputation as a daring aviator. 

Shul retired in 1990, switching his focus to writing and photography. He published a number of books about being a pilot, offering first-hand accounts of life as an elite aviator. He also penned histories of the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels squadron and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds. Shul would also pursue his passion for photography, which began during his days as a pilot. He specialized in nature photography, especially birds. He was also a regular public speaker, recounting humorous, self-effacing stories about his adventures in the Air Force.  

Notable quote 

“I don’t want you to confuse me with anyone that’s heroic or famous or did anything great. It’s good etiquette when you check the airplane out of the squadron and bring it back. Leaving your jet in the jungle does not qualify as heroic. I am a survivor.”— Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory speech 

Tributes to Brian Shul 

Full obituary: The Washington Post 

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