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Robert F. Behler  

Operational Pilot/Test Pilot of SR-71, Expert Commentator for NOVA "Spies That Fly"

Most recent Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, Office of the Secretary of Defense, The Hon. Robert F. Behler, Major Gen, USAF (ret) was sworn in as Director of Operational Test and Evaluation on December 11, 2017.

As Presidential appointee confirmed by the United States Senate, he serves as the senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense and Congress on operational and live fire test and evaluation of Department of Defense weapon systems. Prior to his appointment, he was the Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Director of the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute (SEI), a federally funded research and development center. Behler was the general manager and Senior Vice President of the MITRE Corp where he provided leadership to more than 2,500 technical staff in 65 worldwide locations. He joined MITRE from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory where he was a General Manager for more than 350 scientists and engineers as they made significant contributions to critical Department of Defense (DOD) precision engagement challenges.

Behler served 31 years in the United States Air Force, retiring as a Major General in 2003. As a USAF experimental test pilot, he flew more than 65 aircraft types and operationally flew worldwide reconnaissance missions in the fastest aircraft in the world, the SR-71 Blackbird. Behler is a Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma where he received a B.S. and M.S. in aerospace engineering, has a MBA from Marymount University and was a post graduate National Security Fellow at the JFK School of Government at Harvard University. He has recently been on several National Research Council studies for the National Academy of Sciences and received the 2022 Walter Hollis award for Lifetime Contributions and Achievement in Defense Test and Evaluation from the National Defense Industry Association. He received the Norwegian National Defense Medal, Defense Distinguish Service Medal and The Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.

Behler was recently the featured speaker on a Hermeus YouTube presentation on his experiences flying the Mach 3+ SR-71 Blackbird. Hermeus is a startup company with the ambition of developing a Hypersonic aircraft. In March 2023 he was also the Keynote Speaker at the University Consortium on Applied Hypersonic at the Texas A&M. He was also the host commentator for an acclaimed NOVA special on unmanned aerial vehicles entitled "Spies That Flight." Many of Behler's speeches are motivational inspiring America's greatness in innovation and creativity.

Speech Topics

Speed is Life

As the youngest professional boat racer in New York at ages 15-17 I knew there was two things in life I love more than anything else, speed and loud noise. Who would have predicted that 17 years later I would be seating in the world fastest, highest fling aircraft in the world, the SR-71 Blackbird about to take off on a Top-Secret mission that had the President of the United States kind interest. This presentation takes the audience on that journey.

The presentation addresses some of the aircraft develop but focus on the atypical path that I had to take to reach this world class accomplishment. There are far fewer pilots who have flown the SR-71 than astronauts who have been in space. I was a three-time astronaut candidate. The Challenge tragedy set that ambition aside. I was in the astronaut candidate cohorts with many of the Challenge crew.

This presentation will make you feel proud to be an American and inspire you to pursue your dreams. "

SR-71 Diplomacy, Enforcing US Foreign Policy from the Edge of Space

Today the quest to fly faster in captivating America. The desire is to develop aircraft that can fly at hypersonic velocity and safely carry humans. This will not be easy. The technical challenges are enormous, but it can be done with American innovation and intellect. In the 1960's an aircraft was developed to fly at near hypersonic speeds at the edge of space and safely carry humans. I flew that aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird, at the height of the Cold War. I relate what it was like to fly in extreme environments above 90,000 feet by using declassified missions and vignettes to bring the presentation alive.

The audience reaction is always enthusiastic, and their questions usually ask why we could build the world's most advance, fastest, highest flying aircraft in the 1960s, but we are challenged to do it today. Scientists and engineers are always interested in the technical challenges of hypersonic flight like extreme temperatures, advance aerodynamics, and how I got started down this career path. This presentation inspires journeymen engineers and students to solve the seemingly intractable technical challenges."

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