SR-71

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  1. 134282

    134282 Four Time F1 World Champ
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    #1 134282, Oct 3, 2009
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2009
    I don't venture into this forum because I don't know much about planes and, until recently, I haven't had any interest. However, working for Michael Sheehan - the biggest plane geek I've ever met, I've gratuitously absorbed stories about all sorts of stuff. This guy could easily get his Masters in military history without blinking an eye.

    In any case, we were talking about the SR-71 yesterday, and it is now, instantly, my favorite plane ever. I aspire to not only own one as my own personal commuter, but to be able to fly one as well. Here are two (long but worth it) stories that Mike sent to me regarding the Blackbird. Surely some of you have read these two stories. But for those that haven't, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

    ===

    In-Flight Breakup of an SR-71 Blackbird

    By Bill Weaver, Chief Test Pilot, Lockheed

    An Amazing Tale from the Past

    Among professional aviators, there's a well-worn saying:

    Flying is simply hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. But I don't recall too many periods of boredom during my 30-year career with Lockheed, most of which was spent as a test pilot. By far, the most memorable flight occurred on Jan. 25, 1966.

    Jim Zwayer, a Lockheed flight-test specialist, and I were evaluating systems on an SR-71 Blackbird test from Edwards. We also were investigating procedures designed to reduce trim drag and improve high-Mach cruise performance. The latter involved flying with the center-of-gravity (CG) located further aft than normal, reducing the Blackbird's longitudinal stability.

    We took off from Edwards at 11:20 a.m. and completed the mission's first leg without incident. After refueling from a KC-135 tanker, we turned eastbound, accelerated to a Mach 3.2 cruise speed and climbed to 78,000 ft., our initial cruise-climb altitude.

    Several minutes into cruise, the right engine inlet's automatic control system malfunctioned, requiring a switch to manual control. The SR-71's inlet configuration was automatically adjusted during supersonic flight to decelerate airflow in the duct, slowing it to subsonic speed before reaching the engine's face. This was accomplished by the inlet's
    center-body spike translating aft, and by modulating the inlet's forward bypass doors. Normally, these actions were scheduled automatically as a function of Mach number, positioning the normal shock wave (where air flow becomes subsonic) inside the inlet to ensure optimum engine performance. Without proper scheduling, disturbances inside the inlet could result in the shock wave being expelled forward- a phenomenon known as an "inlet unstart."

    That causes an instantaneous loss of engine thrust, explosive banging noises and violent yawing of the aircraft, like being in a train wreck. Unstarts were not uncommon at that time in the SR-71's development, but a properly functioning system would recapture the shock wave and restore normal operation.

    On the planned test profile, we entered a programmed 35-deg. bank turn to the right. An immediate unstart occurred on the right engine, forcing the aircraft to roll further right and start to pitch up.

    I jammed the control stick as far left and forward as it would go. No response. I instantly knew we were in for a wild ride. I attempted to tell Jim what was happening and to stay with the airplane until we reached a lower speed and altitude. I didn't think the chances of
    surviving an ejection at Mach 3.18 and 78,800 ft. were very good. However, g-forces built up so rapidly that my words came out garbled and unintelligible, as confirmed later by the cockpit voice recorder.

    The cumulative effects of system malfunctions, reduced longitudinal stability, increased angle-of-attack in the turn, supersonic speed, high altitude and other factors imposed forces on the airframe that exceeded flight control authority and the stability augmentation system's ability to restore control.

    Everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. I learned later the time from event onset to catastrophic departure from controlled flight was only 2-3 seconds. Still trying to communicate with Jim, I blacked out, succumbing to extremely high g-forces.

    Then the SR-71 literally disintegrated around us. From that point, I was just along for the ride. And my next recollection was a hazy thought that I was having a bad dream. Maybe I'll wake up and get out of this mess, I mused. Gradually regaining consciousness, I realized this was no dream; it had really happened. That also was disturbing, because I COULD
    NOT HAVE SURVIVED what had just happened.

    I must be dead. Since I didn't feel bad- just a detached sense of euphoria- I decided being dead wasn't so bad after all. As full awareness took hold, I realized I was not dead. But somehow I had separated from the airplane.

    I had no idea how this could have happened; I hadn't initiated an ejection. The sound of rushing air and what sounded like straps flapping in the wind confirmed I was falling, but I couldn't see anything. My pressure suit's face plate had frozen over and I was staring at a layer of ice.

    The pressure suit was inflated, so I knew an emergency oxygen cylinder in the seat kit attached to my parachute harness was functioning. It not only supplied breathing oxygen, but also pressurized the suit, preventing my blood from boiling at extremely high altitudes.

    I didn't appreciate it at the time, but the suit's pressurization had also provided physical protection from intense buffeting and g-forces. That inflated suit had become my own escape capsule.

    My next concern was about stability and tumbling. Air density at high altitude is insufficient to resist a body's tumbling motions, and centrifugal forces high enough to cause physical injury could develop quickly. For that reason, the SR-71's parachute system was designed to automatically deploy a small-diameter stabilizing chute shortly after ejection and seat separation. Since I had not intentionally activated the ejection system--and assuming all automatic functions depended on a proper ejection sequence--it occurred to me the stabilizing chute may not have deployed. However, I quickly determined I was falling vertically and not tumbling. The little chute must have deployed and was doing its job.

    Next concern: the main parachute, which was designed to open automatically at 15,000 ft. Again I had no assurance the automatic-opening function would work.

    I couldn't ascertain my altitude because I still couldn't see through the iced-up faceplate. There was no way to know how long I had been blacked-out or how far I had fallen. I felt for the manual-activation D-ring on my chute harness, but with the suit inflated and my hands numbed by cold, I couldn't locate it. I decided I'd better open the faceplate, try to estimate my height above the ground, then locate that "D" ring. Just as I reached for the faceplate, I felt the reassuring sudden deceleration of main-chute deployment.

    I raised the frozen faceplate and discovered its uplatch was broken. Using one hand to hold that plate up, I saw I was descending through a clear, winter sky with unlimited visibility. I was greatly relieved to see Jim's parachute coming down about a quarter of a mile away. I didn't think either of us could have survived the aircraft's breakup, so seeing
    Jim had also escaped lifted my spirits incredibly.

    I could also see burning wreckage on the ground a few miles from where we would land. The terrain didn't look at all inviting--a desolate, high plateau dotted with patches of snow and no signs of habitation.

    I tried to rotate the parachute and look in other directions. But with one hand devoted to keeping the face plate up and both hands numb from high-altitude, subfreezing temperatures, I couldn't manipulate the risers enough to turn. Before the breakup, we'd started a turn in the New Mexico-Colorado-Oklahoma-Texas border region. The SR-71 had a
    turning radius of about 100 miles at that speed and altitude, so I wasn't even sure what state we were going to land in. But, because it was about 3:00 p.m., I was certain we would be spending the night out here.

    At about 300 ft. above the ground, I yanked the seat kit's release handle and made sure it was still tied to me by a long lanyard. Releasing the heavy kit ensured I wouldn't land with it attached to my derriere, which could break a leg or cause other injuries. I then tried to recall what survival items were in that kit, as well as techniques I had been taught in survival training.

    Looking down, I was startled to see a fairly large animal, perhaps an antelope, directly under me. Evidently, it was just as startled as I was because it literally took off in a cloud of dust.

    My first-ever parachute landing was pretty smooth. I landed on fairly soft ground, managing to avoid rocks, cacti and antelopes. My chute was still billowing in the wind, though. I struggled to collapse it with one hand, holding the still-frozen faceplate up with the other. "Can I help you?" a voice said. Was I hearing things? I must be hallucinating.
    Then I looked up and saw a guy walking toward me, wearing a cowboy hat. A helicopter was idling a short distance behind him. If I had been at Edwards and told the search-and-rescue unit that I was going to bail out over the Rogers Dry Lake at a particular time of day, a crew couldn't have gotten to me as fast as that cowboy-pilot had.

    The gentleman was Albert Mitchell, Jr., owner of a huge cattle ranch in northeastern New Mexico. I had landed about 1.5 mi. from his ranch house--and from a hangar for his two-place Hughes helicopter.

    Amazed to see him, I replied I was having a little trouble with my chute. He walked over and collapsed the canopy, anchoring it with several rocks. He had seen Jim and me floating down and had radioed the New Mexico Highway Patrol, the Air Force and the nearest hospital.

    Extracting myself from the parachute harness, I discovered the source of those flapping-strap noises heard on the way down. My seat belt and shoulder harness were still draped around me, attached and latched.

    The lap belt had been shredded on each side of my hips, where the straps had fed through knurled adjustment rollers. The shoulder harness had shredded in a similar manner across my back. The ejection seat had never left the airplane. I had been ripped out of it by the extreme forces, with the seat belt and shoulder harness still fastened.

    I also noted that one of the two lines that supplied oxygen to my pressure suit had come loose, and the other was barely hanging on. If that second line had become detached at high altitude, the deflated pressure suit wouldn't have provided any protection. I knew an oxygen supply was critical for breathing and suit-pressurization, but didn't appreciate how much physical protection an inflated pressure suit could provide.

    That the suit could withstand forces sufficient to disintegrate an airplane and shred heavy nylon seat belts, yet leave me with only a few bruises and minor whiplash was impressive. I truly appreciated having my own little escape capsule.

    After helping me with the chute, Mitchell said he'd check on Jim. He climbed into his helicopter, flew a short distance away and returned about 10 minutes later with devastating news: Jim was dead. Apparently, he had suffered a broken neck during the aircraft's disintegration and was killed instantly.

    Mitchell said his ranch foreman would soon arrive to watch over Jim's body until the authorities arrived. I asked to see Jim and, after verifying there was nothing more that could be done, agreed to let Mitchell fly me to the Tucumcari hospital, about 60 mi. to the south.

    I have vivid memories of that helicopter flight, as well. I didn't know much about rotorcraft, but I knew a lot about "red lines," and Mitchell kept the airspeed at or above red line all the way. The little helicopter vibrated and shook a lot more than I thought it should have. I tried to reassure the cowboy-pilot I was feeling OK; there was no need to rush. But since he'd notified the hospital staff that we were inbound, he insisted we get there as soon as possible. I couldn't help but think how ironic it would be to have survived one disaster only to be done in by the helicopter that had come to my rescue.

    However, we made it to the hospital safely--and quickly. Soon, I was able to contact Lockheed's flight test office at Edwards. The test team there had been notified initially about the loss of radio and radar contact, and then told the aircraft had been lost. They also knew what our flight conditions had been at the time, and assumed no one could have survived. I explained what had happened, describing in fairly accurate detail the flight conditions prior to breakup.

    The next day, our flight profile was duplicated on the SR-71 flight simulator at Beale AFB, Calif. The outcome was identical. Steps were immediately taken to prevent a recurrence of our accident. Testing at a CG aft of normal limits was discontinued, and trim-drag issues were subsequently resolved via aerodynamic means. The inlet control system was continuously improved and, with subsequent development of the Digital Automatic Flight and Inlet Control System, inlet unstarts became rare.

    Investigation of our accident revealed that the nose section of the aircraft had broken off aft of the rear cockpit and crashed about 10 mi from the main wreckage. Parts were scattered over an area approximately 15 miles long and 10 miles wide. Extremely high air loads and g-forces, both positive and negative, had literally ripped Jim and me from the
    airplane. Unbelievably good luck is the only explanation for my escaping relatively unscathed from that disintegrating aircraft.

    Two weeks after the accident, I was back in an SR-71, flying the first sortie on a brand-new bird at Lockheed's Palmdale, Calif., assembly and test facility. It was my first flight since the accident, so a flight test engineer in the back seat was probably a little apprehensive about my state of mind and confidence.

    As we roared down the runway and lifted off, I heard an anxious voice over the intercom. "Bill! Bill! Are you there?"

    "Yeah, George. What's the matter?"

    "Thank God! I thought you might have left." The rear cockpit of the SR-71 has no forward visibility--only a small window on each side--and George couldn't see me. A big red light on the master-warning panel in the rear cockpit had illuminated just as we rotated, stating: "Pilot Ejected." Fortunately, the cause was a misadjusted micro switch, not my
    departure.

    Bill Weaver flight-tested all models of the Mach-2 F-104 Starfighter, and the entire family of Mach 3+ Blackbirds - - the A-12, YF-12 and SR-71. He subsequently was assigned to Lockheed's L-1011 project as an engineering test pilot, and became the company's chief pilot. He later retired as Division Manager of Commercial Flying Operations.


    ===


    *Subject:* SR-71 story

    *SPY PLANE*

    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-111s 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.

    Scores of significant aircraft have been produced in the 100 years of flight, following the achievements of the Wright brothers, which we celebrate in December. Aircraft such as the Boeing 707, the F-86 Sabre Jet, and the P-51 Mustang are among the important machines that have flown our skies. But the SR-71, also known as the Blackbird, stands alone as a significant contributorto Cold War victory and as the fastest plane ever-and only 93 Air Force pilots ever steered the "sled," as we called our aircraft.

    As inconceivable as it may sound, I once discarded the plane. Literally. My first encounter with the SR-71 came when I was 10 years > old in the form of molded black plastic in a Revell kit. Cementing together the long fuselage parts proved tricky, and my finished product looked less than menacing. Glue, oozing from the seams, discolored the black plastic. It seemed ungainly alongside the fighter planes in my collection, and I threw it away.

    Twenty-nine years later, I stood awe-struck in a Beale Air Force Base hangar, staring at the very real SR-71 before me. I had applied to fly the world's fastest jet and was receiving my first walk-around of our nation's most prestigious aircraft. In my previous 13 years as an Air Force fighter pilot, I had never seen an aircraft with such presence. At 107 feet long, it appeared big, but far from ungainly.

    Ironically, the plane was dripping, much like the misshapen model I had assembled in my youth. Fuel was seeping through the joints, raining down on the hangar floor. At Mach 3, the plane would expand several inches because of the severe temperature, which could heat the leading edge of the wing to 1,100 degrees. To prevent cracking, expansion joints had been built into the plane. Sealant resembling rubber glue covered the seams, but when the plane was subsonic, fuel would leak through the joints.

    The SR-71 was the brainchild of Kelly Johnson, the famed Lockheed designer who created the P-38, the F-104 Starfighter, and the U-2. After the Soviets shot down Gary Powers' U-2 in 1960, Johnson began to develop an aircraft that would fly three miles higher and five times faster than the spy plane-and still be capable of photographing your license plate. However, flying at 2,000 mph would create intense heat on the aircraft's skin. Lockheed engineers used a titanium alloy to construct more than 90 percent of the SR-71, creating special tools and manufacturing procedures to hand-build each of the 40 planes. Special heat-resistant fuel, oil, and hydraulic fluids that would function at 85,000 feet and higher also had to be developed.

    In 1962, the first Blackbird successfully flew, and in 1966, the same year I graduated from high school, the Air Force began flying operational SR-71 missions. I came to the program in 1983 with a sterling record and a recommendation from my commander, completing the weeklong interview and meeting Walter, my partner for the next four years. He would ride four feet behind me, working all the cameras, radios, and electronic jamming equipment. I joked that if we were ever captured, he was the spy and I was just the driver. He told me to keep the pointy end forward.

    We trained for a year, flying out of Beale AFB in California, Kadena Airbase in Okinawa, and RAF Mildenhall in England. On a typical training mission, we would take off near Sacramento, refuel over Nevada, accelerate into Montana, obtain high Mach over Colorado, turn right over New Mexico, speed across the Los Angeles Basin, run up the West Coast, turn right at Seattle, then return to Beale. Total flight time: two hours and 40 minutes.

    One day, high above Arizona, we were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. "Ninety knots," ATC replied. A twin Bonanza soon made the same request. "One-twenty on the ground," was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was. "Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground," ATC responded.

    The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walter's mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walter startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, "Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground. We did not hear another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.

    The Blackbird always showed us something new, each aircraft possessing its own unique personality. In time, we realized we were flying a national treasure. When we taxied out of our revetments for takeoff, people took notice. Traffic congregated near the airfield fences, because everyone wanted to see and hear the mighty SR-71. You could not be a part of this program and not come to love the airplane. Slowly, she revealed her secrets to us as we earned her trust.

    One moonless night, while flying a routine training mission over the Pacific, I wondered what the sky would look like from 84,000 feet if the cockpit lighting were dark. While heading home on a straight course, I slowly turned down all of the lighting, reducing the glare and revealing the night sky. Within seconds, I turned the lights back up, fearful that the jet would know and somehow punish me. But my desire to see the sky overruled my caution, I dimmed the lighting again.

    To my amazement, I saw a bright light outside my window. As my eyes adjusted to the view, I realized that the brilliance was the broad expanse of the Milky Way, now a gleaming stripe across the sky. Where dark spaces in the sky had usually existed, there were now dense clusters of sparkling stars. Shooting stars flashed across the canvas every few seconds. It was like a fireworks display with no sound.

    I knew I had to get my eyes back on the instruments, and reluctantly I brought my attention back inside. To my surprise, with the cockpit lighting still off, I could see every gauge, lit by starlight. In the plane's mirrors, I could see the eerie shine of my gold spacesuit incandescently illuminated in a celestial glow. I stole one last glance out the window. Despite our speed, we seemed still before the heavens, humbled in the radiance of a much greater power. For those few moments, I felt a part of something far more significant than anything we were doing in the plane. The sharp sound of Walt's voice on the radio brought me back to the tasks at hand as I prepared for our descent.

    The SR-71 was an expensive aircraft to operate. The most significant cost was tanker support, and in 1990, confronted with budget cutbacks, the Air Force retired the SR-71. The Blackbird had outrun nearly 4,000 missiles, not once taking a scratch from enemy fire. On her final flight, the Blackbird, destined for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, sped from Los Angeles to Washington in 64 minutes, averaging 2,145 mph and setting four speed records.

    The SR-71 served six presidents; protecting America for a quarter of a century. Unbeknownst to most of the country, the plane flew over North Vietnam, Red China, North Korea, the Middle East, South Africa, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Libya, and the Falkland Islands. On a weekly basis, the SR-71 kept watch over every Soviet nuclear submarine and mobile missile site, and all of their troop movements. It was a key factor in winning the Cold War.

    I am proud to say I flew about 500 hours in this aircraft. I knew her well. She gave way to no plane, proudly dragging her sonic boom through enemy backyards with great impunity. She defeated every missile, outran every MiG, and always brought us home. In the first 100 years of manned flight, no aircraft was more remarkable.

    With the Libyan coast fast approaching now, Walt asks me for the third time, if I think the jet will get to the speed and altitude we want in time. I tell him yes. I know he is concerned. He is dealing with the data; that's what engineers do, and I am glad he is. But I have my hands on the stick and throttles and can feel the heart of a thoroughbred, running now with the power and perfection she was designed to possess. I also talk to her. Like the combat veteran she is, the jet senses the target area and seems to prepare herself.

    For the first time in two days, the inlet door closes flush and all vibration is gone. We've become so used to the constant buzzing that the jet sounds quiet now in comparison. The Mach correspondingly increases slightly and the jet is flying in that confidently smooth and steady style we have so often seen at these speeds. We reach our target altitude and speed, with five miles to spare. Entering the target area, in response to the jet's newfound vitality, Walt says, "That's amazing" and with my left hand pushing two throttles farther forward, I think to myself that there is much they don't teach in engineering school.

    Out my left window, Libya looks like one huge sandbox. A feature less brown terrain stretches all the way to the horizon. There is no sign of any activity. Then Walt tells me that he is getting lots of electronic signals, and they are not the friendly kind. The jet is performing perfectly now, flying better than she has in weeks. She seems to know where she is. She likes the high Mach, as we penetrate deeper into Libyan airspace. Leaving the footprint of our sonic boom across Benghazi, I sit motionless, with stilled hands on throttles and the pitch control, my eyes glued to the gauges.

    Only the Mach indicator is moving, steadily increasing in hundredths, in a rhythmic consistency similar to the long distance runner who has caught his second wind and picked up the pace. The jet was made for this kind of performance and she wasn't about to let an errant inlet door make her miss the show. With the power of forty locomotives, we puncture the quiet African sky and continue farther south across a bleak landscape.

    Walt continues to update me with numerous reactions he sees on the DEF panel. He is receiving missile-tracking signals. With each mile we traverse, every two seconds, I become more uncomfortable driving deeper into this barren and hostile land. I am glad the DEF panel is not in the front seat. It would be a big distraction now, seeing the lights flashing. In contrast, my cockpit is "quiet" as the jet purrs and relishes her newfound strength, continuing to slowly accelerate.

    The spikes are full aft now, tucked twenty-six inches deep into the nacelles. With all inlet doors tightly shut, at 3.24 Mach, the J-58s are more like ramjets now, gulping 100,000 cubic feet of air per second. We are a roaring express now, and as we roll through the enemy's backyard, I hope our speed continues to defeat the missile radars below. We are approaching a turn, and this is good. It will only make it more difficult for any launched missile to solve the solution for hitting our aircraft.

    I push the speed up at Walt's request. The jet does not skip a beat, nothing fluctuates, and the cameras have a rock steady platform. Walt received missile launch signals. Before he can say anything else, my left hand instinctively moves the throttles yet farther forward. My eyes are glued to temperature gauges now, as I know the jet will willingly go to speeds that can harm her. The temps are relatively cool and from all the warm temps we've encountered thus far, this surprises me but then, it really doesn't surprise me. Mach 3.31 and Walt are quiet for the moment.

    I move my gloved finder across the small silver wheel on the autopilot panel, which controls the aircraft's pitch. With the deft feel known to Swiss watchmakers, surgeons, and "dinosaurs" (old-time pilots who not only fly an airplane but "feel it"), I rotate the pitch wheel somewhere between one-sixteenth and one-eighth inch location, a position which yields the 500-foot-per-minute climb I desire. The jet raises her no se one-sixth of a degree and knows I'll push her higher as she goes faster. The Mach continues to rise, but during this segment of our route, I am in no mood to pull throttles back.

    Walt's voice pierces the quiet of my cockpit with the news of more missile launch signals. The gravity of Walter's voice tells me that he believes the signals to be a more valid threat than the others. Within seconds he tells me to "push it up" and I firmly press both throttles against their stops. For the next few seconds, I will let the jet go as fast as she wants. A final turn is coming up and we both know that if we can hit that turn at this speed, we most likely will defeat any missiles. We are not there yet, though, and I'm wondering if Walt will call for a defensive turn off our course.

    With no words spoken, I sense Walter is thinking in concert with me about maintaining our programmed course. To keep from worrying, I glance outside, wondering if I'll be able to visually pick up a missile aimed at us. Odd are the thoughts that wander through one's mind in times like these. I found myself recalling the words of former SR-71 pilots who were fired upon while flying missions over North Vietnam. They said the few errant missile detonations they were able to observe from the cockpit looked like implosions rather than explosions. This was due to the great speed at which the jet was hurling away from the exploding missile.

    I see nothing outside except the endless expanse of a steel blue sky and the broad patch of tan earth far below. I have only had my eyes out of the cockpit for seconds, but it seems like many minutes since I have last checked the gauges inside. Returning my attention inward, I glance first at the miles counter telling me how many more to go, until we can start our turn. Then I note the Mach, and passing beyond 3.45, I realize that Walter and I have attained new personal records. The Mach continues to increase. The ride is incredibly smooth.

    There seems to be a confirmed trust now, between the jet; and me she will not hesitate to deliver whatever speed we need, and I can count on no problems with the inlets. Walt and I are ultimately depending on the jet now - more so than normal - and she seems to know it. The cooler outside temperatures have awakened the spirit born into her years ago, when men dedicated to excellence took the time and care to build her well. With spikes and doors as tight as they can get, we are racing against the time it could take a missile to reach our altitude.

    It is a race this jet will not let us lose. The Mach eases to 3.5 as we crest 80,000 feet. We are a bullet now - except faster. We hit the turn, and I feel some relief as our nose swings away from a country we have seen quite enough of. Screaming past Tripoli, our phenomenal speed continues to rise, and the screaming Sled pummels the enemy one more time, laying down a parting sonic boom. In seconds, w e can see nothing but the expansive blue of the Mediterranean. I realize that I still have my left hand full forward and we're continuing to rocket along in maximum afterburner.

    The TDI now shows us Mach numbers, not only new to our experience but flat out scary. Walt says the DEF panel is now quiet, and I know it is time to reduce our incredible speed. I pull the throttles to the min 'burner range and the jet still doesn't want to slow down. Normally the Mach would be affected immediately, when making such a large throttle movement. But for just a few moments old 960 just sat out there at the high Mach, she seemed to love and like the proud Sled she was, only began to slow when we were well out of danger. I loved that jet.
     
  2. snj5

    snj5 F1 World Champ
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    Feb 22, 2003
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    Russ Turner
    Great stories!
    You're welcome here anytime!
     
  3. donv

    donv F1 World Champ
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    Don
    Carbon, look for the book "Sled Driver." I think it's out of print, but you may stumble across it at a used book store-- or Mike might have it in his collection. It's amazing. The second story you posted is from that book.
     
  4. ppatel9

    ppatel9 Formula Junior

    Mar 31, 2008
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    Amazing post. Those stories are incredible indeed. Thank you for sharing that with us.
     
  5. beast

    beast F1 Veteran

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    Rob Guess
    #5 beast, Oct 5, 2009
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2009
    The book is still available in a limited edition. Not real cheap.

    https://galleryonepublishing.com/BlackbirdStores/index.php?cPath=21

    and Amazon has some of the regular editions.

    http://www.amazon.com/Sled-Driver-Flying-Worlds-Fastest/dp/0929823087
     
  6. Ney

    Ney F1 Rookie
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    Apr 20, 2004
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    Great Planes on the Military channel has had a show on the development and operation of the A12 and SR71. A facinating show to watch. They explained how the ejection seat was designed to work at Mach speeds. The forces must have been staggering.
     
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  8. Heat Seeker WS6

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  9. Pantera

    Pantera F1 Rookie

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    I enjoyed reading that.
     
  10. BLAMPEE

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  11. Gatorrari

    Gatorrari F1 World Champ
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    I saw an SR-71 make several fly-bys at the Abbotsford Airshow in British Columbia a number of years ago. Apparently this was done as part of an operational mission: the crew came down from their usual "high and fast" regime, made their airshow appearance, and then lit the afterburners (by far, the biggest burners I've ever seen!) and headed back up to their usual altitude and speed!
     
  12. bitzman

    bitzman Formula 3

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    Look them up, they happen at several places where there are Blackbirds on display. I went to the one at March AFB within the last two years. I think it was $10-15 entrance fee and it was the thrill of my life to talk to several pilots and "debrief" them in my amateur way, not knowing much about airplanes. Among the stories I heard:

    --they said it wasn't a Blackbird that crashed in Vietnam , the one that Bo Gritz had to
    chase all over hell trying to retrieve the black box from the VietCong. Maybe U2

    --one guy said he aborted his take off and his co-pilot ejected at ground level but was unhurt because the chair went up before the chute deployed

    --one pilot on the early phase when they had the CIA backed two seaters said he flew out of Area 51. I asked "What about the flying saucer?" and he said "Hell, they not only didn't have a saucer,they didn't have any women there!

    --one pilot bailed out at 2000 mph but said that, since the earth rotates at 1400 mph, it was only at 600 mph. Piece of cake.

    --they said they could see the missiles coming at them from Russia, Red China, etc. but always goose their way past them

    For $15 I could have sat in the cockpit. Next time I'll do that. The funniest story of all was that one pilot was short and not Steve Canyon looking at all and he said he was at a party and all the pilots started bragging on what planes they flew in the past and when it came to him and he said "SR71" one guy blurted out "But you're too short and too ugly to have flown a Blackbird." Quite a name of a plane to drop.
     
  13. 1ual777

    1ual777 Formula 3

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    I would think that once he said SR-71 that pretty much is a conversation stopper. I can just see the guys from C-130's; KC-10's; F-16. All very good aircraft. But as the narrative said, "Only 93 men have ever piloted the SR-71." Not much to say after that.
     
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  15. ppatel9

    ppatel9 Formula Junior

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    Is there any way to get the book without paying an arm and a leg for it? Tried looking online......nothing.
     
  16. beast

    beast F1 Veteran

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    You might check a nearby air museum and see if they have a copy in there library. If they do they will more than likely not let you check it out but you can make a few trips to be able to read it.
     
  17. Kds

    Kds F1 World Champ

    At the aviation museum in Seattle they have an accurate SR-71 mockup cockpit that you can sit in for free. Kinda cramped "without" the pressure suit....I can only imagine what it would have been like all zipped up for 8-20 hours.

    They also have a real A-12......kinda rare.
     
  18. ryankjb

    ryankjb Formula Junior

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    I haven't finished reading this whole story yet, but that part really made me laugh.
     
  19. 4re Nut

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  20. donv

    donv F1 World Champ
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    Of course he'd need his own KC-135 to go with it.

     
  21. robbreid

    robbreid Karting

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  23. Kds

    Kds F1 World Champ

    #21 Kds, Oct 13, 2009
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2009
    FWIW, there is an unintentional IMHO confirmation of the SR-71's actual operational atitude limits as well, but in a different book.

    "Beyond the Secret Missions" by Paul Crickmore (an ex-ATC in the UK) is almost as good as Brian Schul's book, but for 1/10 the price.

    A large section of the work is devoted to the initial development of the A-12, YF-12, SR-71 series, as well as the operational use of the A-12, which as you may or may not know was the exact same thing as the SR-71, except, instead of having the second crew member, it had electronic gear in it's place, and just one poor pilot who must have been very busy, according to the anecdotes from the statements in his book by those who flew over North Korea, China and North Vietnam in Operation Oxcart, amongst others.

    It regularily operated between 85,000 - 90,000' for extended periods of time..........at Mach 3.1 - 3.3......
     
  24. donv

    donv F1 World Champ
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    I always remember flying in Northern California in the late 80s and hearing the controller, on more than one occasion, say "Aspen two zero, upon entering controlled airspace, descend and maintain flight level four five zero." For those who don't know, controlled airspace stops at 60,000 feet, so they were coming down from above that altitude.

    I guess above 60,000 feet, you can do whatever you want.

     
  25. Kds

    Kds F1 World Champ

    There is also a story is one of the books along the same lines where an SR asks for clearance to 60,000' and the new to the job ATC guy says "sure if you can make it that high"....whereupon the SR says, "actually, we are coming down".
     
  26. 1ual777

    1ual777 Formula 3

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    Great story. Guess he sort of put him in his place.
     
  27. Bob Parks

    Bob Parks F1 Veteran
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    I surmise from your handle that you fly a 777 for UAL. If I'm correct, you are flying the WGA, the World's Greatest Airplane. And I know that for a fact.
    Switches
     
  28. DMC308

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  29. John B

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    Great stories!

    A friend of mine was a SR-71 pilot. He said they took off with full fuel but the fuel tanks leaked so much at low speeds due to being designed to withstand the planes thermal expansion and it burned so much on takeoff they would then refuel before going supersonic. The problem was the stall speed of the SR-71 was higher than the max speed of the tanker plane. What they had to do was put the tanker in a dive from high altitude and then the SR-71 would hook up on the descent.
     
  30. Bob Parks

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    This is the same thing that the B-47's did with the KC-97's in 1953 and thus the 367-80 ,KC-135 and compatible refueling scenarios.
    Switches
     
  31. Gatorrari

    Gatorrari F1 World Champ
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    And I worked on its design, with a whole lot of other engineers, in Renton from 1991 thru 1993. (The engineers moved to Everett afterwards.)

    I wish I could fly in 777s more often, but there are few in use domestically. I have more success in finding the other airliner I worked on the design of, the 767.
     
  32. Gatorrari

    Gatorrari F1 World Champ
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    And you couldn't walk under one after it returned from a flight for the same reason! A regular flying sieve. Fortunately the flash point of the fuel was such that I heard that you could throw a lighted match into a puddle of it on the ground and nothing would happen.
     
  33. Bob Parks

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    And I worked with you on both but unfortunately I never met you. I worked on all the jets from the B-52 to the 777 less the odd numbered 737 and 757 because I was working on the 747 and 767 at the time. It amazes me that the engineering staff of both Airbus and Boeing haven't been able to design something to beat the performance of the 737. They just tweek it a little bit and beat back anything that confronts it. Amazing little airplane! And to think, at one time they were going to dump the program. I have no faith or attachment to the 787 thing. It is not a Boeing product like the 777 was. When I look back at the coordinated effort of the Design Build Teams that we conducted with the customer reps and the IN-HOUSE manufacturing teams I know that we did the right thing. They *****ed about the high cost of the initial run of airplanes but it is now paying off. The 777 is one of the a great ones if not the greatest.
    Switches
     
  34. AnotherDunneDeal

    AnotherDunneDeal F1 Veteran

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    #32 AnotherDunneDeal, Oct 28, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 7, 2017
    Back during the Vietnam war I was sitting at my air intercept control console in CIC of the Guided Missile Frigate (USS Wainwright DLK 28). We were running NORSAR off the coast of Haiphong. We had several sorties up and around Hanoi and I was just keeping an eye on things. One of the other controllers onboard told me to look further north on my screen and tell me what I saw. We had an unknown object flying at over 70,000 feet at slightly below mach 3. We had been able to pick it up on the AN/SPS 48 long range air search radar.

    The other controller reported it as a missile but then it changed course and took about 100 miles to make a wide sweeping fast turn and head directly back south again. We watched it for about three minutes while it made a few more turns. About that time we received a command to drop track on the object and to discontinue tracking it. We found out later it was an SR-71 snapping pictures..............First and only time I ever got to track one on radar. It was quite a thrill........
    cg28.jpg
    cg28_wainwright.jpg
     
  35. CornersWell

    CornersWell F1 Rookie

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    What I find to be so interesting is that the Blackbird is, essentially, a 50-year old plane. But, it was so amazingly advanced at that time that even today it's impressive. It makes me wonder why we aren't pushing the engineering limits. I'm sure I'm glossing over a whole host of more recent aeronautical achievements, but the truth seems to be that we (as in humans) haven't produced any plane that's equally or more capable than the Blackbird.

    I'm sure economics has a lot to do with it, but any comments are welcome. I've heard much talk about scramjet technology, but nothing's here, yet. Moreover, satellites have obviated the Blackbird in many applications. So, was the Blackbird THE apex of aeronautical technology? Or, will we see even more fantastic planes in the future?

    CW
     
  36. Crawler

    Crawler F1 Rookie
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    #34 Crawler, Oct 28, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 28, 2009
    It's true that when you look at a century of aviation and compare the first 50 years to the last 50, the development curve has leveled off considerably, notwithstanding the recent advances made in stealth technology, avionics, composite construction, etc.

    In the first 50 years (44 to be exact), we went from the Wright Brothers' first powered flight to supersonic. To me, that is just staggering.
     
  37. donv

    donv F1 World Champ
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    There may be more fantastic planes already in existence:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_(aircraft)

     
  38. SilverF20C

    SilverF20C Formula 3

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    Finally had a chance to read through the whole thread. Great stories all around. Another excellent thread!

    Regarding donv's Wikipedia URL: For some reason, the correct URL doesn't post properly here but adding that closing parenthesis in the address bar will make it work if you tried clicking on the link (or, just copy paste the whole URL into the address bar).
     
  39. James_Woods

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    I had heard the rumor that the takeoff fuel was of a different formula from the cruise fuel as well.
     
  40. donv

    donv F1 World Champ
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    Thanks-- and sorry, now it's too late to edit!

     
  41. SilverF20C

    SilverF20C Formula 3

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    No worries, no fault of your own! I even tried test posting it and it would drop the closing parenthesis from the live link. Go figure...
     
  42. ppatel9

    ppatel9 Formula Junior

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    Should be fixed now.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurora_%28aircraft%29
     
  43. Aedo

    Aedo F1 Rookie

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    Cool story!!! :)
     
  44. 134282

    134282 Four Time F1 World Champ
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    I completely forgot to come back and check on this thread. So many cool posts and stories!

    If anyone has any more SR-71 anecdotes (AnotherDunneDeal's story was awesome), please share.


    As for having it as a personal commuter - a guy can dream, can't he? :)
     
  45. flyboynm

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    I can also recommend Ben Rich's "The Skunk Works". He talks about his time in the Skunk Works from the U-2 Days up to the F-117. He is the man that succeeded Kelly Johnson in running the Skunk Works. Interesting stories about the Blackbird in there.
     
  46. mwr4440

    mwr4440 Three Time F1 World Champ
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    Yep, and 2nd it.
     
  47. mwr4440

    mwr4440 Three Time F1 World Champ
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    A guy I know fairly well (he pays me when I travel) has a framed shoulder patch on his "I Love Me Wall." It is from his last unit of assignment. Best job he EVER had and he LOVED to HATE it. His weekly commute was a govt(?) provided aircraft with window shades drawn at all times. They routinely had their window shades closed (if they had windows at all) for no explained reason.

    The yellow and black patch is in the shape of a western US State with a cute little stinky black and white critter on it.


    The unit's Motto: "Area XX. We work in the shadows, to keep YOU in the dark."



    Honestly, I think that answers your question. IMO there are allot of things out there that our adversaries, friends and even the US public has no need or even right to know …… for MANY years, if ever.
     
  48. Jet-X

    Jet-X F1 Veteran
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    I can attest to "Sled Driver" - it's a fantastic book (yes, I own a copy signed by the author). As cool as the stories are in the book, the photography is out of this world (literally). Seeing what appears to be the aircraft at 90,000+ feet in black outerspace is just awe inspiring.

    Carbon, if you put gloves on you can peruse my copy ;)
     
  49. 134282

    134282 Four Time F1 World Champ
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    I'm buying gloves. :)
     
  50. 1ual777

    1ual777 Formula 3

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    Having been at a particular airport and seeing aircraft departing on a schedualed basis for a particular location in the middle of no-where, it is very interesting that over the years NO ONE has talked about what they do.
    It is comforting that in todays world, your word means something.
     
  51. Jet-X

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    Sounds like the daily Janet Air flight out of LAS to Groom Lake.
     
  52. mwr4440

    mwr4440 Three Time F1 World Champ
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    1ual777 & Jet-X,

    Sorry. I am dumb as a post.

    Other than what I have said, I have no FREAKING IDEA what either of you are talking about. ;)


    I ..... have NO NEED To Know.

    Not now; Not ever.

    :eek:
     

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