Imagine flying at nearly 80,000 feet at three times the speed of sound in a $45 million airplane. Now imagine both engines failing at the same time and you plummeting toward the ground. Brian McCallum, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and current RHEMA Bible Training Center instructor, doesn’t have to imagine it. He lived it.
“I had a double-engine flame-out (when both engines stop working) one time in an SR-71,” he said. “It just started falling. This happened to us at about 75,000 feet. You can’t get it started again until you are under 50,000 feet.”
After free-falling for 25,000 feet, Rev. McCallum tried to get the engines started several times with no success. He told his navigator, “‘If the right engine doesn’t start this time, we’re bailing out.’ We tried one more time, and that engine rumbled and started. I was so glad to hear that. No one wants to lose a $45 million airplane, which is what they cost back then. I’d say over the years I had five or six ‘close calls’ like that.”
Rev. McCallum joined the Air Force in 1951, fulfilling a desire birthed in him as a child as he watched planes fly overhead from a nearby Air Force base. Thirteen years later, he accepted Jesus as his Savior while watching Billy Graham on television. But God, Who sees the end from the beginning, had His eyes on Brian McCallum for a long time before that.
“I had another incident in an F-86 (the United States’ first swept-wing jet fighter) where I lost control of the airplane on a very high-altitude dive bomb run from 20,000 feet,” he said. “I had gotten too vertical in my dive and started to pull the nose back up to recover. Because of the g-forces (the force of gravity or acceleration on a body) I was pulling, the airplane’s nose moved too quickly and my head and hands went down between my feet, and I couldn’t get them up. I couldn’t see where I was going, and the last I saw I was headed toward the ground at about 10,000 feet going 600 miles per hour.
“I pushed and pushed and couldn’t get my head up at all,” he remembered. “Finally, I got my head up, and when I did, I expected to see sand, but the airplane had pulled completely up out of the dive and did a loop-like maneuver. I was now flying upside down at the top of the loop. It shouldn’t have done that by itself, but it did.
“I didn’t understand in those days because I wasn’t saved yet, but God was watching over my life,” Rev. McCallum said with a smile. “He protected me from certain death that day. The airplane was overstressed. It was built for 7.5 g-force, and I had done over nine. The plane should have broken, but it didn’t.
“Years later when I was getting ready to teach a course at RHEMA Bible Training Center called ‘Angels and Demons,’ I was studying and read in Hebrews 1:14, ‘Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who SHALL BE heirs of salvation?’ It jumped off the page at me. The Lord spoke to me on the inside and said, ‘I did that for you.’ I knew right away what He was talking about! God’s angels were right on time!”
Rev. McCallum was active during the Vietnam War and flew many missions in the SR-71, taking photographs of enemy movements. He was actually one of the first 20 Air Force people to ever pilot the plane, which flew above 80,000 feet at more than 2,200 miles per hour. He said he could fly from the Mississippi River to Northern California in 30 minutes.
“There’s not a sensation of how fast you’re going, because you’re so high when you’re going that fast,” he said. “You get a bigger sensation when you’re doing 800 or 900 miles per hour when you’re close to the ground because everything is going by so fast. Up there you don’t have anything to pass by fast. Once in a while you’d pass another SR-71 or a weather balloon. You’d go by it so fast you could barely turn your head to keep up with it.”
Flying at those speeds at that altitude, training is vital to the safety of the pilot and any crew on board. During his ‘close calls,’ Rev. McCallum was able to remain calm due to the countless hours he spent rehearsing what to do in case of an emergency.
“All of the training they gave us paid off,” he said. “Your training keeps you from getting overly engrossed in what’s wrong. All of the time we spent in training was never wasted. It prepared us for unexpected things that happened to us.”
As a 1979 RBTC graduate and instructor since 1981, Rev. McCallum saw an obvious parallel between his training for the military and for the ministry.
“It’s the same in your walk with God,” he said. “The more time you spend in His Word and acting on it, the more preparation you’re giving yourself for unexpected events. When they do occur, it’s supernaturally natural to walk in the Word instead of what your senses tell you.”
Rev. McCallum served 23 years in the military, and upon his retirement immediately started serving people. Before attending RHEMA, he served as an associate pastor and supervised a home for 50 troubled youth for five years. Knowing he needed more training, he and his wife, June, moved to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to attend RBTC. More than 30 years later, they are still here—and still serving. He worked as the ministry’s pilot, as a part-time instructor, and for five years as dean of the school. He is still a full-time instructor. “I was blessed to spend the years in the Air Force that I did,” Rev. McCallum said, “It was a privilege to serve my country. Serving your country is a good thing, but serving God is the greatest!”