A aviation & planes forum. AviationBanter

If this is your first visit, be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above. You may have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed. To start viewing messages, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

Go Back   Home » AviationBanter forum » rec.aviation newsgroups » Piloting
Site Map Home Register Authors List Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read Web Partners

Flying the SR-71 (for real).

Thread Tools Display Modes
Old November 18th 07, 01:55 AM posted to rec.aviation.piloting
Angelo Campanella[_2_]
external usenet poster
Posts: 25
Default Flying the SR-71 (for real).

Dear All:

For your reading enjoyment:
Ang. C.

Forrest Fenn wrote: If you don't cry when you read this, you're a sorry
ass and never were a good fighter pilot.
(Pilot's name is not repeated; presumably it's Forrest Fenn, but who knows!)

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 contributor to 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
week long 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 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 space suit
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 new-found 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 featureless
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 new-found 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

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 is 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 nose
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

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 me and the jet; 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, we 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.


--------- www.CampanellaAcoustics.com ---------
tel 614-876-5108, cel 614-560-0519, fax 614-771-8740 (call ahead)

"I have simply studied carefully whatever I've undertaken, and tried to
hold a reserve that would carry me through." - Charles A. Lindbergh.
"As for background noise level; 35 dBA is a good classroom; 45 dBA is a
sound masking system!" - Anthony K. Hoover
"Every day, we perform

Old November 18th 07, 12:10 PM posted to rec.aviation.piloting
Marty Shapiro
external usenet poster
Posts: 287
Default Flying the SR-71 (for real).

Angelo Campanella wrote in

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 that frequency all the way to the coast.

Angelo -

Thanks for posting this. It is most fascinating.

The above passage, which is all I reproduced here, is very similar to
what Brian Shul wrote in "Sled Driver" by Brian Shul. There are probably
more legends about this aircraft than any other.

In my copy, the third edition, on page 65 in the section titled
"Training Flights", it says (hopefully I didn't make too many typo's):

I'll always remember a certain radio exchange that occurred one day as
Walt and I were screaming across southern California 13 miles high. We
were monitoring various radio transmissions from other aircraft as we
entered Los Angeles Center's airspace. Though they didn't really control
us, they did monitor our movement across their scope. I heard a Cessna ask
for a readout of its groundspeed. "90 knots," Center replied. Moments
later a Twin Beech required the same. "120 knots," Center answered. We
weren't the only one proud of our speed that day as almost instantly an F-
18 smugly trnasmitted, "Ah, Center, Dusty 52 request groundspeed readout."
There was a slight pause. "525 knots on the ground, Dusty." Another
silent pause. As I was thinking to myself how ripe a situation this was, I
heard the familiar click of a radio transmission coming from by back-
seater. It was at that precise moment I realized Walt and I had become a
real crew, for we were both thinking in unison. "Center, Aspen 20, you got
a ground speed readout for us?" There was a longer than normal pause.
"Aspen, I show one thousand seven hundred and forty-two knots." No further
inquiries were heard on that frequency.

Marty Shapiro
Silicon Rallye Inc.

(remove SPAMNOT to email me)
Old November 25th 07, 05:58 PM posted to rec.aviation.piloting
[email protected]
external usenet poster
Posts: 373
Default Flying the SR-71 (for real).

On Nov 17, 7:55 pm, Angelo Campanella
Dear All:

For your reading enjoyment:
Ang. C.

Source? Where's this from?

If it's from a book I think I might want that book.

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Real-life Landing Performance after "flying" MS Flight Sim Jay Honeck Piloting 8 December 26th 06 02:20 PM
747 Lawnmower ?..............Yes, this is real, a flying Lawnmower Lufthansi Piloting 4 July 15th 06 01:08 AM
747 Lawnmower ?..............Yes, this is real, a flying Lawnmower Hansi Owning 2 July 13th 06 04:32 PM
FS: Real Bicycle Seats for Real People! [email protected] Aviation Marketplace 0 February 22nd 06 10:24 PM
Real-time real world air traffic in flight sims Marty Ross Simulators 6 September 1st 03 04:13 AM

All times are GMT +1. The time now is 04:41 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.6.4
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright 2004-2020 AviationBanter.
The comments are property of their posters.