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Tales of the Blackbird (SR-71)

rivrrts429

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Such a bad ass plane :thumbup:






"There were a lot of things we couldn't do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. Even cerebral. But there was one day in our Sled experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fastest guys out there, at least for a moment.

yPaKtNV.jpg



It occurred when Walt and I were flying our final training sortie. We needed 100 hours in the jet to complete our training and attain Mission Ready status. Somewhere over Colorado we had passed the century mark. We had made the turn in Arizona and the jet was performing flawlessly. My gauges were wired in the front seat and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be flying real missions but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane in the past ten months. Ripping across the barren deserts 80,000 feet below us, I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. I was, finally, after many humbling months of simulators and study, ahead of the jet.

I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital. It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the radios, as during my entire flying career I had controlled my own transmissions. But it was part of the division of duties in this plane and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn't match my expertise at sounding smooth on the radios, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in fighter squadrons where the slightest radio miscue was grounds for beheading. He understood that and allowed me that luxury.

Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him. The predominant radio chatter was from Los Angeles Center, far below us, controlling daily traffic in their sector. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uncontrolled airspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to descend into their airspace.

We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed. Center replied: "November Charlie 175, I'm showing you at ninety knots on the ground."

Now the thing to understand about Center controllers, was that whether they were talking to a rookie pilot in a Cessna, or to Air Force One, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional, tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the " Houston Center voice." I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country's space program and listening to the calm and distinct voice of the Houston controllers, that all other controllers since then wanted to sound like that, and that they basically did. And it didn't matter what sector of the country we would be flying in, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to pilots everywhere. Conversely, over the years, pilots always wanted to ensure that, when transmitting, they sounded like Chuck Yeager, or at least like John Wayne. Better to die than sound bad on the radios.

Just moments after the Cessna's inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his ground speed. "I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed." Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren. Then out of the blue, a navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency. You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radios. "Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check". Before Center could reply, I'm thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million-dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a readout? Then I got it, ol' Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is. He's the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet. And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion: "Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground."

And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what? As my hand instinctively reached for the mic button, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the radios. Still, I thought, it must be done - in mere seconds we'll be out of the sector and the opportunity will be lost. That Hornet must die, and die now. I thought about all of our Sim training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the radios now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn.

Somewhere, 13 miles above Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his space helmet. Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke: "Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?" There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request. "Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground."

I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling. But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot-like voice: "Ah, Center, much thanks, we're showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money."

For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the Houston Center voice, when L.A.came back with, "Roger that Aspen, Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one."

It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day's work. We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.

For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there."

-Brian Schul
"Sled Driver: Flying the World's Fastest Jet"
 

koenig

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Funny story!!! They brought it to my local airshow in 86. It arrived for Fridays show, did a demo, and then was on static display for the rest of the show. Its a 3day show.
 

wallnutz

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Such a bad ass plane :thumbup:






"There were a lot of things we couldn't do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. Even cerebral. But there was one day in our Sled experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fastest guys out there, at least for a moment.

yPaKtNV.jpg



It occurred when Walt and I were flying our final training sortie. We needed 100 hours in the jet to complete our training and attain Mission Ready status. Somewhere over Colorado we had passed the century mark. We had made the turn in Arizona and the jet was performing flawlessly. My gauges were wired in the front seat and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be flying real missions but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane in the past ten months. Ripping across the barren deserts 80,000 feet below us, I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. I was, finally, after many humbling months of simulators and study, ahead of the jet.

I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital. It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the radios, as during my entire flying career I had controlled my own transmissions. But it was part of the division of duties in this plane and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn't match my expertise at sounding smooth on the radios, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in fighter squadrons where the slightest radio miscue was grounds for beheading. He understood that and allowed me that luxury.

Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him. The predominant radio chatter was from Los Angeles Center, far below us, controlling daily traffic in their sector. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uncontrolled airspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to descend into their airspace.

We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed. Center replied: "November Charlie 175, I'm showing you at ninety knots on the ground."

Now the thing to understand about Center controllers, was that whether they were talking to a rookie pilot in a Cessna, or to Air Force One, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional, tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the " Houston Center voice." I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country's space program and listening to the calm and distinct voice of the Houston controllers, that all other controllers since then wanted to sound like that, and that they basically did. And it didn't matter what sector of the country we would be flying in, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to pilots everywhere. Conversely, over the years, pilots always wanted to ensure that, when transmitting, they sounded like Chuck Yeager, or at least like John Wayne. Better to die than sound bad on the radios.

Just moments after the Cessna's inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his ground speed. "I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed." Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren. Then out of the blue, a navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency. You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radios. "Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check". Before Center could reply, I'm thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million-dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a readout? Then I got it, ol' Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is. He's the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet. And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion: "Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground."

And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what? As my hand instinctively reached for the mic button, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the radios. Still, I thought, it must be done - in mere seconds we'll be out of the sector and the opportunity will be lost. That Hornet must die, and die now. I thought about all of our Sim training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the radios now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn.

Somewhere, 13 miles above Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his space helmet. Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke: "Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?" There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request. "Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground."

I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling. But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot-like voice: "Ah, Center, much thanks, we're showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money."

For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the Houston Center voice, when L.A.came back with, "Roger that Aspen, Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one."

It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day's work. We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.

For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there."

-Brian Schul
"Sled Driver: Flying the World's Fastest Jet"

I have read this story at least 20 times over the years, and every time it chokes me up, with a sense of pride. True Americans, built and flew that "sled".:)
 

koenig

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Seeing it perform live was an awesome experience. Been going to my local show since the 70's, only missed a few years. By far my favorites are the SR-71, F-14 and when Russia showed up in 89 with a Mig 29 and SU-27.

[video=youtube;IXvujY_wXiI]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXvujY_wXiI[/video]
 

Strabo

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There are two at the Palmdale Air Museum outside, 1-SR71 and the Prototype A12....Very cool!!
 

BigSteve

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I have read this story at least 20 times over the years, and every time it chokes me up, with a sense of pride. True Americans, built and flew that "sled".:)

If you like Brain Shul books he teamed up with Walter Watson jr and wrote

"The Untouchables" about the SR-71 experience

I picked up a autographed copy of the book, when they spoke at the Rotary club meeting.
The base had a rare viewing day for the plane :champagne:
 

Sleek-Jet

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Skunk Works by Ben Rich is a good read for lore of the Blackbird.

There is one at the Pima museum. They've put it up on pedestals now, but when it was first moved inside to the new hangar you could walk right up and touch the skin. It felt and sounded "cheap", thin and tinny, not substantial like you would imagine, a by product of the titanium.

One awesome piece of machinery.
 

Pesky Varmint

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I don't think our country could do it now.

I don't think we could get to the moon now.

The super big booster the government is developing will fail.

Don't get me wrong, I'm red blooded American hawk. The American
republic has died however.

Pesky Varmint
 

Sleek-Jet

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I don't think our country could do it now.

I don't think we could get to the moon now.

The super big booster the government is developing will fail.

Don't get me wrong, I'm red blooded American hawk. The American
republic has died however.

Pesky Varmint
I wouldn't count he boys at Space-X out just yet.
 

C-2

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Thanks for sharing :thumbup:
 

Strabo

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The Museum Of Flight in Seattle has a variant made in 63 designed to carry a drone into hostile territory. Its pretty cool, looks the same but has a drone on top.

The plane here: http://www.museumofflight.org/aircraft/lockheed-m-21-blackbird

the drone here: http://www.museumofflight.org/aircraft/lockheed-d-21b-drone

Wow i didnt know that. Check this out,

Next to the display in Palmdale is this thing that i thought was an engine from the Blackbird. Now i know what it is, its the Drone.

Thanks Mr Koenig for the insite. :)
 

HocusPocus

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Great story, thanks for sharing it. I spent my last 2 active years in the Air Force at Beale AFB with the SR-71 and U-2's. Really enjoyed parking down at the end of the runway watching them take off overhead. :thumbup:
 

rivrrts429

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Pilot Brian Shul is a man's man. The epitomy of an American :thumbup:







Shul served as a Foreign Air Advisor in the Vietnam War, flying 212 close air support missions in conjunction with Air America. Near the end of all hostilities, his AT-28 aircraft was shot down near the Cambodian border. Unable to eject from the aircraft, Shul was forced to crash land into the jungle. After surviving, he suffered severe burns in the ensuing fireball. Crawling from the burning wreckage, he was finally found and rescued by an Air Force Pararescue team.

He was evacuated to a military hospital in Okinawa where he was expected to die. Barely surviving 2 months of intensive care, in 1974 he was flown to the Institute of Surgical Research at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. During the following year, he underwent 15 major operations. During this time he was told by physicians that he?d never fly again and was lucky to be alive. Months of physical therapy followed, enabling Shul to eventually pass a flight physical and return to active flying duty.

Two days after being released from the hospital, Brian was back flying Air Force fighter jet aircraft. He went on to fly the A-7D, and was then selected to be a part of the first operational A-10 squadron at Myrtle Beach, SC, where he was on the first A-10 air show demonstration team. After a tour as an A-10 Instructor Pilot at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, he went on to instruct at the Air Force?s Fighter Lead-In School as the Chief of Air-to-Ground Academics. As a final assignment in his career, Shul volunteered for and was selected to fly the SR-71. This assignment required an astronaut type physical just to qualify, and Shul passed with no waivers. Shul?s comeback story from lying near dead in the jungle of Southeast Asia, to later flying the world?s fastest, highest flying jet, has been the subject of numerous magazine articles. Shul also made an Air Force safety video titled "Sierra Hotel" (with the title referring to the phonetic alphabet code for the military aviator slang expletive "Shit Hot") where he described his crash ordeal in explicit detail in order to motivate other USAF pilots to be more safety conscious and teaching them how to better survive such incidents.
 

rivrrts429

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Great story, thanks for sharing it. I spent my last 2 active years in the Air Force at Beale AFB with the SR-71 and U-2's. Really enjoyed parking down at the end of the runway watching them take off overhead. :thumbup:


My Dad's buddy was a U-2 pilot. Some very cool stories but the U-2 wasn't as glamorous as the Blackbird.

He said that he was bored out of his mind while the plane and cameras did their thing and he was flying close to space. I always thought that was an interesting perception lol.
 

HavaToon

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Thanks for sharing. Brings back good memories. My grand father was one of the engineers who developed the SR-71. He always brought me cool poster and models signed by the pilots.
 

floatn turd

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I saw it fly when I was a kid. Either at March AFB or El Toro. I don't remember which, but I do remember it flew over once with full burner and and shoot the very ground. It then flew over again and you couldn't even hear the plane pass by because it was going so fast. The sound of the SR's engines were wayyyy behind the actual plane.




Plus that little punk from the movie D.A.R.Y.L got to fly one one and he was around my age when that movie came out. I hated that kid for that:D

Daryl-poster-1985.jpg
 

wsuwrhr

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I mentioned this story in another thread a couple weeks ago. Glad to see it again.

I love the story, ready it word for word, twice. I love it.

Thanks,

Brian
 

HALLETT BOY

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By the looks of the routes and re-fuel schedules on the map , it doesn't look like it gets good gas mileage ...
Doesn't seem to be very eco - friendly .
 

JB in so cal

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F 4's on the left and F 14's on the right. 14 very loud screaming jet engines.
 

72Hondo

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Love the bottom picture, all American air power. I would say the F-4 louder than the 14 though.
 

Wombat

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Great thread, outstanding machinery. :thumbup:

Makes you wish they built one as a passenger jet :D

Bring back the Concorde MK2 l say........:D
 

wsuwrhr

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I just read the OP again, that one just never gets old rr429.

Brian
 

Sleek-Jet

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I still have my slide rule from the 60's. When I showed it to my young engineer colleagues at work, they were like wtf is that?:rolleyes:D
I still use a slide rule, all be it a circular one. My E6B computer is in the seat back pocket of the airplane. Takes a lot of math out of wind triangles.

We went to the moon using slide-rules and long hand calculations.
 

AzGeo

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I still use a slide rule, all be it a circular one. My E6B computer is in the seat back pocket of the airplane. Takes a lot of math out of wind triangles.

We went to the moon using slide-rules and long hand calculations.

I too remember how to use it, but I rather come to RDP and get ALL the RIGHT ANSWERS, for everything ! HA HA
 

koenig

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Love the bottom picture, all American air power. I would say the F-4 louder than the 14 though.

Saw them both at our local airshow in 88. The F4's was German. From memory I thought the F14 was bigger and louder. But found a video on YouTube and the F4 is a little louder.

F14 about 5:20 in and F4 is shortly after:

[video=youtube;NDj2Bfb8UH8]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDj2Bfb8UH8[/video]
 

rivrrts429

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Love bumping this thread to the top...






Normally, we would land the SR-71 at the same field from which we took off. We landed away only when the plan had a serious problem or if the weather at homebase was so bad it forced us to divert. If the Sled got sick in flight, our task was to get the plane down safely as soon as possible. Landing away was a big deal for everyone, from the people who wanted to download the film and sensor data, to the people who maintained the plane.

Landing away could be a real adventure, even a nightmare at times. We really depended on our support people to help us in every phase of our ground ops, from following the mobile car to PSD assisting us in and out of the cockpit. Just getting out of the space suit without PSD to help could be an ordeal, not to mention that all our regular clothes and flight suits were in our locker back at our takeoff location. Land-aways were not all that frequent, but nearly every crew had at least one story in that regard. Walt and I only had to land away only one time and that was quite enough.

We had been up since 0100 preparing for a big mission around the island of Cuba. The weather looked good and the first refueling went well. We were just approaching Utah when I noticed that we were losing oil pressure on the right engine. We were still climbing at 1500 knots and had not reached our cruising altitude or speed. Walter quickly figured which fields would be suitable along our route to land. These fields, of course, were not below us, but several hundred miles in front of us, due to our speed. He gave me a couple of options and I settled on Peterson Field in Colorado as the easiest for us to make. This was a joint use field, as in addition to being an Air Force runway it also served as a municipal airport for Colorado Springs.

We got the plane down fine and were flying, this time for real, with one engine in idle. We were able to dump fuel in the descent so we were light enough to have no problems with thrust. As we started talking to the air traffic controllers and approach people, we realized that this was quite something exciting for them as they had never handled an SR-71 before. The controlling agencies around the Sacramento area of California were quite used to us and we had never thought much about it. Now we felt as if we were more of an air show for these folks than an aircraft having an emergency. We pretty much had all the priority we needed or could ever want. In all my military flying, I had always been forced to give way to civilian carriers. Now for the first time I heard tower tell a United Airlines flight to clear the runway immediately as his takeoff clearance was cancelled. A Continental flight was then told to hold position also. This was most amazing to hear, and though I mentioned it to Walt, he was not interested as he was knee deep in handling all those high priority radio messages to all the required agencies, far from the airfield in front of us. The Sled, though sick, performed smoothly through landing and with both the military and civilian sides of the field completely at a standstill, we taxied off the runway and were asked where we would like to go.

I could already see people gathering on the edges of the field to get a glimpse of a plane that most of them had only heard about. I decided to taxi past the military ramp and find a hangar where we might bed down our plane. A flurry of excitement greeted us on the ground. Every agency with a radio wanted to issue instructions or request our intentions. For a moment I felt like I was in complete control of the airport. If I had asked to taxi to the United terminal and have the Marine band there to greet us, I am sure someone would have made it happen. We were getting more ?help? than we could use. I finally told everyone to clear the frequency and we were going to the end of the West ramp. That seemed to silence everyone. There were no hangars and we ended up parking on the transient ramp just like every other regular jet would, except that we were the only black jet there, and there was a crowd gathering quickly by the fence. Quite an exciting morning for these folks.

During our training, we had been thoroughly briefed on what actions to take if we had to shut down the engines without the assistance of ground personnel. Now that time was here, and we felt a little naked without the normal gathering of PSD and maintenance specialists around us. The procedure called for the RSO to unstrap himself, and with the engines still running, climb out of the aircraft, slide down the chine of the aircraft in full space suit, and drop to the ground. While hydraulic pressure was still on the landing gear, he would then find the gear pin compartment, open it, and insert the landing gear safety pins into each landing gear strut, preventing inadvertent retraction of the wheels on the ground. After this, the RSO would signal the pilot to shut down the engines and monitor that fuel was venting as the engines spooled down. While the RSO was running this gauntlet of events, the pilot sat in the cockpit with his feet firmly on the brakes. I was glad I was the pilot.

Walt did a masterful job of locating and disconnecting all his straps and hoses that held him in his cockpit. Although we had been briefed on this contingency, this was the first and only time we ever really had to perform it. While Walt carefully stowed secret materials in the backseat, I noticed the crowd that had now formed just a few hundred feet away was quite large. The same look of wonder that I had seen at air shows I now saw on the faces of these people who had stopped their normal morning routine to watch the ?show?. Walt told me he was ready to climb out of the plane and I just kept thinking what an unsafe maneuver this is for him, but we had no choice. When the crowd saw a spaceman pop out of the backseat, they must have collectively gasped, as I could see the look of shock on their faces. When Walt slithered down the side of the fuselage, awkwardly at best, the crowd stood mesmerized and couldn?t be sure what might happen next. As Walt walked around beneath the aircraft the people had that look of a group that was witnessing an alien landing.

Once I had shut down the plane and extracted myself, I noticed a blue staff car approaching. The colonel inside was able to secure our classified materials and asked us what we needed. We told him we wanted armed guards immediately around the plane until it could be towed into a hangar. He saw to it immediately. He also sent someone to pick up some regular flight suits for us to wear. With specific instructions from us, the base operations folks were able to help get us out of our space suits. Before we were even dressed, a sergeant wanted to know when he could take his people in the weather facility out to the jet for a tour. The requests continued for two days like that.

The next day, an entire maintenance team arrived from Beale to repair our plane. We were glad to see them arrive and give us a break from walking base officials around the jet. We did enjoy giving tours though, and were only sorry we had to show them a broken plane. They didn?t mind at all.

Once the plane had been fixed, Walt and I didn?t know our takeoff time until maintenance gave us the word, but somehow the entire base already knew. People were there along the road, on the grass, against the fence, and on the tops of all the buildings in the vicinity, including the United terminal. The people at Peterson Field and Colorado Springs had treated us royally, and I knew they would enjoy seeing a flyby, but out departure procedure called for a normal takeoff and quick climb out to head home. We sure hated to disappoint all those people hoping to see more than the jet disappear quickly into a speck in the blue Colorado sky.

Walt and I talked it over prior to suiting up. We thought it might be a good idea to make sure that darn oil pressure was holding by doing a couple of high powered passes across the field?just to make sure. Heck, just to be positive, we thought we?d better light the afterburners a couple of times too, prior to beginning our final climb out. We felt this was a good plan.

On a beautiful Colorado afternoon, we were able to thrill an unbelievable amount of spectators with a simple oil system checkout pass. On the third pass, the mighty Sled brought the rooftop viewers to their knees, then departed west, leaving people who still talk about it to this day.
 

rivrrts429

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In April 1986, following an attack on American soldiers in a Berlin disco, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Muammar Qaddafi's terrorist camps in Libya. My duty was to fly over Libya and take photos recording the damage our F-111's had inflicted. Qaddafi had established a 'line of death,' a territorial marking across the Gulf of Sidra , swearing to shoot down any intruder that crossed the boundary. On the morning of April 15, I rocketed past the line at 2,125 mph.

I was piloting the SR-71 spy plane, the world's fastest jet, accompanied by Maj Walter Watson, the aircraft's reconnaissance systems officer (RSO). We had crossed into Libya and were approaching our final turn over the bleak desert landscape when Walter informed me that he was receiving missile launch signals. I quickly increased our speed, calculating the time it would take for the weapons-most likely SA-2 and SA-4 surface-to-air missiles capable of Mach 5 - to reach our altitude. I estimated that we could beat the rocket-powered missiles to the turn and stayed our course, betting our lives on the plane's performance.

After several agonizingly long seconds, we made the turn and blasted toward the Mediterranean 'You might want to pull it back,' Walter suggested. It was then that I noticed I still had the throttles full forward. The plane was flying a mile every 1.6 seconds, well above our Mach 3.2 limit. It was the fastest we would ever fly. I pulled the throttles to idle just south of Sicily , but we still overran the refueling tanker awaiting us over Gibraltar.
 

rivrrts429

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I was flying the SR-71 out of RAF Mildenhall, England , with my back-seater, Walt Watson; we were returning from a mission over Europe and the Iron Curtain when we received a radio transmission from home base. As we scooted across Denmark in three minutes, we learned that a small RAF base in the English countryside had requested an SR-71 fly-past. The air cadet commander there was a former Blackbird pilot, and thought it would be a motivating moment for the young lads to see the mighty SR-71 perform a low approach. No problem, we were happy to do it. After a quick aerial refueling over the North Sea , we proceeded to find the small airfield.

Walter had a myriad of sophisticated navigation equipment in the back seat, and began to vector me toward the field. Descending to subsonic speeds, we found ourselves over a densely wooded area in a slight haze. Like most former WWII British airfields, the one we were looking for had a small tower and little surrounding infrastructure. Walter told me we were close and that I should be able to see the field, but I saw nothing.

Nothing but trees as far as I could see in the haze. We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from 325 knots we were at. With the gear up, anything under 275 was just uncomfortable. Walt said we were practically over the field?yet; there was nothing in my windscreen. I banked the jet and started a gentle circling maneuver in hopes of picking up anything that looked like a field. Meanwhile, below, the cadet commander had taken the cadets up on the catwalk of the tower in order to get a prime view of the fly-past. It was a quiet, still day with no wind and partial gray overcast.

Walter continued to give me indications that the field should be below us but in the overcast and haze, I couldn't see it.. The longer we continued to peer out the window and circle, the slower we got. With our power back, the awaiting cadets heard nothing. I must have had good instructors in my flying career, as something told me I better cross-check the gauges. As I noticed the airspeed indicator slide below 160 knots, my heart stopped and my adrenalin-filled left hand pushed two throttles full forward. At this point we weren't really flying, but were falling in a slight bank. Just at the moment that both afterburners lit with a thunderous roar of flame (and what a joyous feeling that was) the aircraft fell into full view of the shocked observers on the tower

Shattering the still quiet of that morning, they now had 107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their face as the plane leveled and accelerated, in full burner, on the tower side of the infield, closer than expected, maintaining what could only be described as some sort of ultimate knife-edge pass. Quickly reaching the field boundary, we proceeded back to Mildenhall without incident. We didn't say a word for those next 14 minutes.

After landing, our commander greeted us, and we were both certain he was reaching for our wings. Instead, he heartily shook our hands and said the commander had told him it was the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen, especially how we had surprised them with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as breathtaking. He said that some of the cadet?s hats were blown off and the sight of the plan form of the plane in full afterburner dropping right in front of them was unbelievable. Walt and I both understood the concept of ?breathtaking? very well that morning, and sheepishly replied that they were just excited to see our low approach.

As we retired to the equipment room to change from space suits to flight suits, we just sat there-we hadn't spoken a word since ?the pass.? Finally, Walter looked at me and said, ?One hundred fifty-six knots.
What did you see?? Trying to find my voice, I stammered, ?One hundred fifty-two.? We sat in silence for a moment. Then Walt said, ?Don?t ever do that to me again!? And I never did.

A year later, Walter and I were having lunch in the Mildenhall Officer?s club, and overheard an officer talking to some cadets about an SR-71 fly-past that he had seen one day. Of course, by now the story included kids falling off the tower and screaming as the heat of the jet singed their eyebrows. Noticing our HABU patches, as we stood there with lunch trays in our hands, he asked us to verify to the cadets that such a thing had occurred. Walt just shook his head and said, ?It was probably just a routine low approach; they're pretty impressive in that plane.? Impressive indeed.
 

Dkahnjob

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Great stories. I love reading about the SR-71, my favorite plane. Were you involved with the BlackBird Project?
 

rivrrts429

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Great stories. I love reading about the SR-71, my favorite plane. Were you involved with the BlackBird Project?

Too young to ever be involved with the SR-71

My Dad's old friend was a U2 pilot and the stories and pictures he had were impressive when I was a kid.

Just a fan of what this great nation has been able to accomplish.
 

Kbach

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Awesome stories, some I've seen and some I haven't but all so cool. My dad worked for Lockheed and we were on the field in Burbank when the SR made its "last" flight headed to an air museum back east I believe. I still get goosebumps when I picture it flying over head then lighting the afterburners for a bit as it reached the end of the field and picked up altitude. Such an amazingly sinister plane.
 
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