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In 1992, a book about the famed SR-71 Blackbird, entitled Sled Driver took the aviation world by storm. Receiving a copy shortly after it was released, I can still recall sitting down and reading it cover to cover in one sitting. Stunning in its photography, this coffee table book became an immediate best seller. As memorable as the pictures, was the accompanying non-technical style of delightful narrative that took the reader into the cockpit of the worlds’ fastest, highest flying jet. No book since has done it better. Amazing was the fact that author Brian Shul not only flew the SR-71 as an Air Force pilot, but took all of the striking photographs himself. This was the first book to intimately take the reader into the unique world of the Blackbird pilot. From intensive training, to Mach 3+ flights over hostile territory, to viewing the stars at 80,000 feet, Shul’s first hand accounts led the reader effortlessly into the secret world of the fastest, highest flying spy pilots in history. It was that rare aviation picture book that I found myself picking up to read more than once. The humorous anecdotes, captivating prose, and beautiful photography, not only garnered the book numerous awards, but made it the most popular SR-71 book ever, with continued sales here and abroad for over ten years.


With a change in publishers, the book recently lapsed out of print, much to the dismay of many Blackbird fans worldwide. In the past couple of years remaining copies have all but evaporated as Sled Driver is still the most sought-after book on the SR-71 today. Consequently I was most interested, and delighted when contacted by the new publisher about reviewing a preview copy of a special remake of the book, due for release in 2003.
Now, by popular demand, Sled Driver is back. And like the magnificent aircraft it so lovingly describes, what a glorious return it is. Highly cherishing my own Sled Driver for years, I was skeptical that a remake could improve on the original. I was wrong. Gallery One Publishing has surpassed all of my expectations and spared no expense in creating a masterpiece. Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ flight, Gallery One celebrates the most remarkable aircraft of the 20th Century with a Centennial of Flight Limited Edition Sled Driver (3500), an extraordinary work that outshines the original on all fronts.


I am happy to report that the new Sled Driver is not a sequel, but rather presents a much improved version of the same basic story and theme as the original. When you pick up the Limited Edition, however, you know this is not your fathers’ Sled Driver. The book is now artistically printed in a landscape (horizontal) format, enabling full frame viewing of all those horizontal photos that were so popular in the original. And speaking of photos, this time Shul has included only the very best of the photographs from the original, including some new ones seen for the first time. A real bonus here is that in addition to his own prized photographs, Shul has included in the book selected images from the private collection of famed Lockheed photographer, Eric Schulzinger, making this the definitive SR-71 photo album. These incredible SR-71 images now have the quality exposure they aptly deserve.

The text too, has been expanded and in some places rewritten for better clarity. My favorite stories (everyone has a favorite Sled Driver story) read like I was seeing them for the first time. Additionally, some new stories and sections have been added, seamlessly keeping the same flavor and charm of the original and giving the book an added 20 pages. Shul puts us where we’ve only imagined being, at the controls of the fastest, and sexiest aircraft ever built, and does it all without revealing every intimate secret that is shared only between pilot and plane. In keeping with the Centennial of Flight year, I particularly enjoyed the well-placed quotations by the Wright Brothers, and felt a deep sense of gratitude and respect conveyed by the author for those two men who changed the 20th Century so dramatically and were so linked to all that this book is about. Though there is less emphasis on historical dates and technical data here than in some other Blackbird books, it is of no consequence, as Shul tells his story with such a passion and eloquence that it enables the reader to better understand and truly appreciate this magnificent plane like no other book has, and by the end, even come to love it as he does. Even with the spectacular layout of photos, I have always felt that it was Shul’s love and respect for the plane, and his appealing ability to convey that in his writing, that has made Sled Driver such an enduring classic amongst aviation enthusiasts. Those who enjoyed reading the first book will simply fall in love with this one. It is lavishly printed in a large format and just has more of all the things that made the original a favorite with everyone who read it.


What makes the Limited Edition Sled Driver a true collectors item however, are the four personal signatures included in each book on a special signature page. These include the first man to fly the SR-71, Robert Gilliland; the man who flew the final speed record flight across America 26 years later, Ed Yeilding; author and SR-71 pilot Brian Shul, and his backseater Walt Watson, co-author of The Untouchables and the only black officer ever to fly in the SR-71 program. This will not be a book you will easily part with or loan out.
Richly crafted with gold-edged pages, the book comes in its own custom clamshell box, includes an embossed number and certificate of authenticity, and is priced for the serious collector at $427. It will make a most elegant addition to any bookshelf. As a special added touch, with each book comes a commemorative Centennial of Flight embroidered emblem, custom designed specifically for this Limited Edition.


Will those who already own a copy of Sled Driver, want to get the new one? Even with the posh price tag, many will, as there is enough different here to make it a regal addition to any Blackbird collection. Those who never got the original, will be glad they waited.
Is it worth the price? You’ll know instantly when you see a copy. As a fan of both the SR-71, and the original Sled Driver, I’ve already reserved two copies. The only negative aspect I can see here is that 3500 Limited Editions may not be enough! I give the Limited Edition Sled Driver my vote for Aviation Book of The Year.


The book is a 2003 Centennial of Flight commemorative, due to arrive by December 2002, and is available only through direct ordering from the publisher, via website or by phone. Orders are being taken starting June 2002, and with only 3680 Limited Editions being printed, early ordering will be necessary to reserve a book number of choice.  Order can be placed on Gallery One web site at www.sleddriver.com.


William Orr, Military Historian
 Flight Books Review, May 2002


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