Eldon W. "Al" Joersz's distinguished career as a combat fighter pilot, world speed record holder, and exceptional military leader began in the small town of Hazen, North Dakota. Born to a proud farmer and professional baker, he graduated Hazen High School in 1962 and enrolled at North Dakota State University. In 1966, he received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mathematics and an Air Force commission from the North Dakota State University Reserve Officer Training Corps. After completing pilot training at Laughlin AFB, Texas, and checking out in the F-105D Thunderchief at the 563 Tactical Fighter Squadron at McConnell AFB, Kansas, Joersz was assigned to the 354th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, in 1968.
Joersz flew 158 combat missions over North Vietnam and Laos-logging over 450 combat hours in the Thunderchief. After serving as a T-38 Talon instructor pilot at Laredo Air Force Base, Texas, Joersz was selected to fly the SR-71 Blackbird. While in the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California, Joersz routinely flew faster than three times the speed of sound on classified reconnaissance missions around the globe. On July 28, 1976, Joersz became the fastest man to pilot an air-breathing aircraft-setting the world absolute speed record of 2,193.167 miles per hour over a 15/25 kilometer straight course. In 1978, Joersz attended Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and also earned a Master's of Business Administration from Auburn University. Following staff assignments in Washington, DC, Joersz was selected to command the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale AFB.
In 1983, he attended the National War College at Fort McNair, Washington, DC, before serving as the 92 Bombardment Wing Deputy Commander for Operations at Fairchild AFB, Washington. After briefly serving as the vice commander for the 5th Bombardment Wing, Minot AFB, North Dakota, he was selected as the 410th Bombardment Wing Commander at K.I. Sawyer AFB, Michigan. Following this tour, Joersz was reassigned to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, where he held multiple positions such as: Assistant Director for Joint National Security Counsel Matters (where he was selected for flag rank); Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans and Operations, Headquarters, US Air Force; and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs. In 1992, Joersz was selected to command the 4th Wing, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Subsequent tours included Chief of Staff for Allied Air Forces Southern Europe (NATO), Naples, Italy, and a tour with the Department of Energy in Washington, DC.
Joersz retired as a Major General in 1997 having flown over 4,500 hours in the F-105D, T-38, SR-71, B-52, KC-135, KC-10 and F-15E. He earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, and 13 Air Medals. Joersz continues his aviation service today as the Director, Business and Strategy Development, Lockheed-Martin Advanced Development Programs at the "Skunkworks"-the birthplace of the SR-71 Blackbird. He currently resides in Palmdale, California, with his wife Carol and one of their three children.
On July 28, 1976, Joersz strapped into his SR-71 at Beale AFB and, with a full fuel load, drove south to the airspace above Edwards AFB, California. Cruising faster than a rifle bullet at over 80,000 feet, Joersz set the world's absolute speed record of 2,193.167 miles per hour over a 15/25 kilometer straight course-becoming the world's fastest pilot of an air-breathing airplane-a record that still stands today.