Skip to comments.Blackbird fly, blackbird fly / Into the light of the dark black night : the SR-71 Blackbird
Posted on 08/22/2013 1:59:39 PM PDT by virgil283
"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." ......
(Excerpt) Read more at americandigest.org ...
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 fieldyet; 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 couldnt 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 werent 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 didnt 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 cadets 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 hadnt 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, Dont ever do that to me again! And I never did.
A year later, Walter and I were having lunch in the Mildenhall Officers 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; theyre pretty impressive in that plane. Impressive indeed."....
Why must you post this as I am about to go to bed? ;)
I love SR threads. They always result in lotsa happy.
Thanks very much for this.
No “How fast?” story is complete without the “How slow?” story.
Note to the non-aviators: When "halving" airspeed from 325 to 160, lift is "quartered", it being proportional to the square of the airspeed.
They were seconds from "fireball".
My favorite fact about the SR is that it has to be refueled immediately after take-off since the seals leak gas like a sieve when it’s on the ground and the seals don’t close until they get heated up at altitude. At least that’s what I heard.
We used to watch those babies take off while we were TDY at BEALE AFB! What a sight! Our KC-135Qs were specially modified for refueling them.
when one considers this plane was conceived and designed in the early 60’s, then the whole business of how and where the titanium came from, the SR is a great story let alone a great aircraft.
Every time I see the one at the Boeing flight museum, I still marvel at the design.
I have been a SR nut for years. My daughter worked on the 117 and the 22 at Holloman. She brought me to the Davis museum where one is stored and had never seen one in person.
Short version. Stood there, mouth agape for a while marveling at that 60s tech. 50s really ;)
Kelly Johnson was an aeronautical genius. Plus, the plane is just bad ass looking.
I don't know about the need to refuel after take off, but one of those pilots talking about flying the A 12 over Korea and Viet Nam in 67-68 mention the need to refuel both before and after their over flight.
All that info about the U2 in the 50s and the A11/A12 in the 60s at Area 51 plus the CIA flights in 67-68 were declassified in 2011. There was much published at that time including the National Geographic's show on that.
Oh, wait..I’m an American.
Experienced a fly by some years back during an air show at Travis. Had to plug my ears when it blasted off.
To all of you SR buffs; get a copy of Skunk Works by Ben Rich. It goes into detail about how the U2, SR 71 and the F 117 were developed. The whole thing is amazing. Particularly how they came up with the multi-faceted shape of the 117. It actually came from an obscure research paper done by a Russian!
I was privileged to have as a friend an SR-71 pilot back in the 1970s. He was a full-bird colonel and patiently answered my dumb questions about the aircraft.
Dr. Pytr Ufimstef was the Russian physicist who derived the equations for minimizing radar return to the transmitter by an angled surface. He took his findings to the KGB who determined that such science had no military value whatsoever and allowed him to openly publish his findings. They came to the conclusion that any airframe based on his science could not fly. And they were right. What they did not have was the computer-based fly-by-wire technology that we had, which allows unstable airframes to reliably fly. And the rest is history.
The Blackbird is a reminder of what we once were. We are now a mulatto in Mom Jeans on a nerd bicycle wearing a dork helmet.
My favorite fact about the SR is that it has to be refueled immediately after take-off since the seals leak gas like a sieve when its on the ground and the seals dont close until they get heated up at altitude. At least thats what I heard.
I’ve been around one the flightline back in the early 70’s, and the JP-7 just drips off the fuselage.
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