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Speed Check, Tales Of The SR-71 Black Bird [Pic]

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 planeintense, 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.

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 who asked Center for a read-out 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 in Beech. “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 read-out? 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 donein 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 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.

Excerpt from the book…Sled Driver : Flying the World”s Fastest Jet
by Brian Shul.

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Date: 02/10/14 02:27 PM

21 Responses to Speed Check, Tales Of The SR-71 Black Bird [Pic]

  1. Profile photo of ElectricEye
    ElectricEye Male 40-49
    2720 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm
    Link: Speed Check, Tales Of The SR-71 Black Bird - Excerpt from the book...Sled Driver : Flying the World`s Fastest Jet by Brian Shul.
  2. Profile photo of WakeToWood
    WakeToWood Male 30-39
    177 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 2:59 pm
    We used to buzz SR-71s over celebrations for heads of state that were not in line with American values? No way!
  3. Profile photo of oobaka
    oobaka Male 40-49
    816 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 4:11 pm
    I was hoping to pick up a copy of the book but the prices range from $300-$1000
  4. Profile photo of Gerry1of1
    Gerry1of1 Male 50-59
    35644 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Good story.
  5. Profile photo of chalket
    chalket Male 50-59
    2705 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 6:06 pm
    That is a great story, well told. Thanks for the find, EE.
  6. Profile photo of mcssls
    mcssls Female 70 & Over
    695 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 6:43 pm
    Walked right under one just before an airshow in 76 or 77 with my dad. It had just been declassified but not totally, every hole covered as we stood there in awe a USAF Security Police sargent came running at us, screaming and swinging his M16 around. My dad back away from the plane and at 10 or 11 I got to look at a cop for the first time, holding me at gun point and I said "are you serious? Get real."
  7. Profile photo of Draculya
    Draculya Male 40-49
    14447 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 7:09 pm
    Great post.
  8. Profile photo of Grendel
    Grendel Male 40-49
    5622 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 7:10 pm
    Great plane, great story.

    Thanks IAB.
  9. Profile photo of broizfam
    broizfam Male 60-69
    4650 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 7:22 pm
    Really enjoyed that.
  10. Profile photo of ForSquirel
    ForSquirel Male 30-39
    1980 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 7:31 pm
    Worth the read!
  11. Profile photo of Ani187
    Ani187 Female 30-39
    4448 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 9:26 pm
    @oobaka, I thought you were joking about the price. Holy crap.
  12. Profile photo of toeachhisown
    toeachhisown Male 50-59
    418 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 10:37 pm
    Kelly Johnson was a genius! From proposal to first flight in only 4 years, all done with slide rules no less.
  13. Profile photo of toeachhisown
    toeachhisown Male 50-59
    418 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 10:38 pm
    "We used to buzz SR-71s over celebrations for heads of state that were not in line with American values? No way!"

    That my friend, is a BIG stick.
  14. Profile photo of Squrlz4Sale
    Squrlz4Sale Male 40-49
    6230 posts
    February 10, 2014 at 11:08 pm
    Wow. Great stuff. Thanks, ElectricEye.
  15. Profile photo of Sleepyhallow
    Sleepyhallow Male 50-59
    1983 posts
    February 11, 2014 at 2:24 am
    This plane first flew in 1949 as the classified program called "Oxcart".
    But like our stealth fighter, was not known to exist publicly until much, much later.

    Think about that......
    The one airplane that STILL holds speed and altitude records was in operation just 5 years after the invention of the jet engine.
    ..... and 2 years after the Roswell incident.....

    The SR71 used composite materials never before seen, aerodynamic designs never before imagined, and technologies years ahead of its time....
    Can you say "Reverse Engineering"?

    Just saying......
  16. Profile photo of Nickel2
    Nickel2 Male 50-59
    5880 posts
    February 11, 2014 at 2:36 am
    Good story. When I was a kid my dad worked at the RAE Farnborough so we were taken in to work on families day, on the run-up to the airshow. Before the displays we were allowed to wander around the planes on the ground, and get a close look at them. (!) I stood under the SR on one of the hard-standings, then got told off for standing in a puddle of fuel in my new shoes.
  17. Profile photo of Vimto
    Vimto Male 40-49
    2849 posts
    February 11, 2014 at 2:52 am
    I`ve never been so tempted to spend that much on a book.
  18. Profile photo of nucnik
    nucnik Male 18-29
    85 posts
    February 11, 2014 at 4:54 am
    @Sleepyhallow: you`re thinking 1959. That`s when project Oxcart started and that was for the A12 not the Blackbird itself. The first Blackbird didn`t fly until 64.

    As for the story, I`ve heard it before and it gave me goosebumps. Whoever thought of combining it with images is a genius. I love that plane!
  19. Profile photo of FredSpudman
    FredSpudman Male 18-29
    653 posts
    February 11, 2014 at 7:39 am
    @Sleepyhallow Jet engines were invented before 1944.
  20. Profile photo of toeachhisown
    toeachhisown Male 50-59
    418 posts
    February 11, 2014 at 5:24 pm
    Titanium is not a composite.
  21. Profile photo of drgnfire
    drgnfire Male 18-29
    531 posts
    February 13, 2014 at 8:50 pm
    That sounds like so much fun.

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