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Thread: SR-71 Blackbird, Brian Shul's memoir

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    Steve's Aircraft (Brian)'s Avatar
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    SR-71 Blackbird, Brian Shul's memoir

    An excerpt from the story. I am sure many of you have had this e-mailed to you, but I could not help but post it here. Enjoy.



    The following is Brian Shul's memoir of flying the SR-71

    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 mis-shapen 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 b egan
    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 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, and 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 gage, 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. Unbeknown 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 gages.
    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 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 gages 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 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 second I will let
    the jet go as fa st 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 gages 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.

  2. #2

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    Great stuff thanks for posting it.

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    12Geezer2's Avatar
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    Yes! Yes! Now I think I'll go re-read Earnie Gann's Black Watch- One of my favorite books.

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    mvivion's Avatar
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    If you can find a copy of Brian's book "Sled Driver", by all means read it. My copy is currently circulating amongst friends, and I hope it comes back. It is out of print, though he has a "special limited edition" which costs several hundred bucks.

    The book this excerpt is from is "The Untouchables", also a great book, but in my opinion not as great as "Sled Driver". Great photos as well in both books.

    He is also a really great speaker. He was shot down in Laos in a T-28, and burned badly. His story of having to fight to stay in the Air Force, to fly again, and ultimately to fly the SR for 11 years is really compelling.

    MTV

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    Nathan K. Hammond's Avatar
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    So... how fast could it REALLY go?

    nkh

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    Gary Reeves's Avatar
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    One of my first jobs as an aerospace engineer was working on the JT-11 or P&W J58. Fate and new reasons kept calling me back over the years. As it turned out one of my last jobs at P&W before retirement also involved that remarkable engine in that incredible bird.

    RRRRRREEeeeeeeeaaaAAALLY FAST!

    GR

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    Steve's Aircraft (Brian)'s Avatar
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    Nathan

    I heard that it can go fast enough to melt the leading edges of the wings.

    If any of you get to McMinville Oregon, go to the Spruce Goose museum. There is a SR-71, engine and D-21 drone sitting under the Goose's wing. Everything is dwarfed by the Goose, damn that airplane is big. Anyway, you can get a good look at the SR and the engine. Impressive piece of equipment. I recommend the museum to everyone. It is one of the nicest displays of aircraft and really gives you perspective to the size of the Spruce Goose.

    Brian.

  8. #8
    SteveE's Avatar
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    Saw one at a static display at Lackland Airforce Base when we watched my son graduate from boot camp. Anyway my brother in law, ex F-16 pilot was there and he said that they kept the real speed classified, but that it would do about Mach 7 (I will double check with him).
    The plane is huge, and I am sure it was incredible to fly.

  9. #9
    mvivion's Avatar
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    Not mach 7, sorry.

    The speed wasn't classified by the time they decommissioned them. In fact, the last flight departed from Beale AFB, went out over the Pacific to tank, then set a coast to coast record flight. Just over an hour flight. The max speed was just over 2,000 mph, which is something over mach 3.

    See http://www.wvi.com/~sr71webmaster/srrcd~1.htm for speed and altitude records.

    A note in Shul's "Sled Driver" book was by one of the pilots, after a flight. His comment was "We did Nebraska in seven minutes today--and that's a pretty good way to do Nebraska".

    Phenomenal airplane. Speeds of ~130 knots up to Mach 3 + and NO wing devices--no flaps, no slats, no slots, no VG's. They just hit a home run when they designed it, and didn't have to fix much except the engine inlets.

    MTV

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    skagwaypilot's Avatar
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    If any of you get to McMinville Oregon, go to the Spruce Goose museum. There is a SR-71, engine and D-21 drone sitting under the Goose's wing. Everything is dwarfed by the Goose, damn that airplane is big. Anyway, you can get a good look at the SR and the engine. Impressive piece of equipment. I recommend the museum to everyone. It is one of the nicest displays of aircraft and really gives you perspective to the size of the Spruce Goose.
    I have a friend who just turned 95. He flew for Western Airlines during and after WWII. His view of the only flight of the Spruce Goose was unique.
    He was doing a test hop of a DC-4 after a double engine change. He departed LAX and headed out toward Catalina Island. On the way back to LAX, he noticed a lot of activity in the Los Angeles harbor. He soon to be witness to history. As he circled over the harbor, the Spruce Goose began her takoff run. From his unique view, he saw something I have heard no one else mention - the tremendous wake that the eight engines created in the water as the hull was rotated and the aircraft lumbered up on the step.

  11. #11
    SteveE's Avatar
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    Not mach 7, sorry.
    Mike, your are right, sort of. Just got off the phone with my brother in law. Air Force F-16s, T 38 instructor and Air Force Academy. They did a study at the Academy on the Blackbird. Officially the speed is Mach 3+. Unofficially and unpublished its Mach 5+ (they figured it out it the Academy). It is because of the design of the engine and the cones in front of the engine. It is designed that the more you compress air into it, the faster it goes. He said they never published the top speed so the "bad guys" would not know how fast to make a missile. Even when they set speed records, they never pushed it.

    Thats what he tells me, and I am stickin to it.

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    Cub junkie's Avatar
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    My hangar neighbor in Kansas City was Geo. Andre. He flew the Blackbird as a civilian for Lockeed. I have heard a few stories on the operation of it. Geo. is still going fast as I saw he raced at Reno last year. Even though much of the Blackbird info. has been declassified it is still surrounded in mystique. My hangar partner during the same period was Harold Neuman, who won the 1935 Thompson Trophy race in Mr. Mulligan. I was a regular joe surrounded by aviation greats.

  13. #13
    Bill Ingerson's Avatar
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    sled driver

    MTV is right about the value of the Book Sled Driver. I looked it up on Amazon Books and they start about $295. used and read. One is the limited addition for $500. signed by the author and never read.
    I picked up a old book called Smiling Jack and the Dare Devil Girl pilot written written in 1942 during the war, funny read.
    Just picked up another one in mint condition written by Anne Morrow Lindberg. The book is called Listen to the Wind. written in 1938, its a 1st addition and Charles Lindberg drew all the maps in it. Its fun finding these old books and reading how people lived in those days.
    So now I have to find the Sled Driver, that was a very interesting thred about the SR-71 Thanks for posting that

    Bill

  14. #14
    Bill Ingerson's Avatar
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    Books

    I just checked out the Anne Morrow Lindberg book "Listen! the Wind" on Amazon.com for book value and was I suprised! I only paid $8.95 for the book and the value on Amazon is $1.95 with only a few thousand available.

    Bill

  15. #15
    mvivion's Avatar
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    Steve,

    Theoretically, the SR may have been able to go to Mach 5. I seriously doubt that it did.

    Shul, in his talk about the airplane was pretty frank about its functional top speed being just over 2000 mph.

    Remember, when they set the coast to coast record, the airplane was going to a museum. They weren't too worried about missiles at that point, and I seriously doubt they stroked it for reasons of classified information.

    The engine air inlets were some of the serious magic in that airplane, and according to everything I've read, were the limiting factor on speed.

    Note that, as far as missiles went, Shul named his second book "The Untouchables" for a reason. As a Blackbird came over the horizon, and into radar view, the fire control folks had to develop a firing solution for a missile, with sufficient lead to permit the missile to get to the altitude the SR was operating at (70 K plus feet) and CATCH the airplane as well. That was pretty much impossible, due to both the speed AND altitude they operated at.

    Shul notes speed and height they were operating at over Syria in his book the Untouchables, and said it was the fastest he'd ever flown in an SR. He flew them for 11 years, by the way.

    I doubt that you can sit in a classroom and calculate how fast one of these things can go.

    The guys that flew them are pretty open about speeds and heights nowadays.

    MTV

  16. #16
    d.grimm's Avatar
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    We had a Sled Driver give a talk at a QB dinner and somebody asked him what his biggest scare was flying the SR-71. Didn't take him more than a second to come up with the story of flying above the US at Mach 3.2 at 82,500 ft and for some strange reason decided to look out the windscreen.
    Saw a black dot in front of him and it turned into a weather balloon with instruments hanging off it. Didn't hit it but came close.
    The other tidbit was that the main gear tires (3) only had anti-skid on the outside wheels. Looking at the three in museums I have noticed that the middle main tire always has torn up tread.
    This guy ( wish I could remember his name) said it was a great flying airplane. I have to believe him, he flew his twin Commanche up from Oklahoma just to talk with us.

  17. #17
    Marty57's Avatar
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    A few years back (8 maybe?) My wife and I were invited to a neighbor’s house for an open house. We lived about 60 miles from Skunk works. My neighbor was a retired Lockheed engineer. We had gotten to know him through our dogs, walking by each other’s houses up in the mountains. During the party, a group of elderly gentlemen were sitting around the couch, looking at an old photo album. As I kind of hovered around the corner, I saw the photo album contained pictures of the SR-71. One picture caught my eye; it was a group shot of a bunch of young guys posing for a group shot in front of the ’71. As I moved closer, I heard them start to mention names, point at each other, start making jokes, some rubbing the bald heads of others. It turned out, that I was sitting with the team that built the first SR-71! Needless to say, I didn’t know what to say. Bill knew I was a “pilot” (if you could call it that in their company) and introduced me to his friends. Then, they started showing me pictures I had never seen before. One gentleman took out a group of pictures and showed me one saying, “I’ll bet you never saw that one before”. I of course could barely speak an intelligent word as he told me that what I was looking at was the flying prototype of an interceptor version of the SR-71 that they had just finished for the Air Force; one of two. I forgot what he called it but it definitely was different. I assume I was looking at pictures that were never “public” and felt very much honored. As the afternoon drew to a close and we were leaving, Bill said to me that if I ever got to see the SR-71 at the A&S museum up close I would be able to see his signature inside of the wheel well of the front gear! I guess you could say I had been in the presence some of the greatest minds in aviation.

    Marty57

  18. #18
    Gary Reeves's Avatar
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    Hmmm,

    The JT-11 or P&W J58 is the powerplant in the blackbird.

    The max speed and duration is temperature limited, but not on the airframe. Mike is closer to correct, but actually it is the the front stages of the compressor on the engines just behind those inlets. The unstart from the shocks and the temperature limit are close together and determine how fast and how long you can fly. Actual ultimate performance data was still classified when I left in 1998 and I bet it still is.

    The speed record set for the Smithsonian (Mach 3.3) was like the old joke about only pulling out enough to win.

    The SR-71 went back into service after the retirement. I spent a bit of time looking for spare parts, and locating engines for some reason much after the public retirement, I assumed for Desert Shield. I would not be surprised if there are not a few in reserve service even now.

    GR

  19. #19
    mvivion's Avatar
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    The A-12 was the interceptor version. That's what's in the Boieng Museum in Seattle.

    MTV

  20. #20
    85Mike's Avatar
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    I saw the one headed for Seattle several years ago on a very special semi truck that stayed the night in Woodland WA. Impressive!!
    What I really would like to know is What the hell do we have up there NOW!!!
    Truly amazing stuff!!
    Mike

  21. #21
    Gary Reeves's Avatar
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    The A-12 was the interceptor version. That's what's in the Boieng Museum in Seattle.

    MTV

    http://www.museumofflight.org/Collec...3-AA2AF8E6BB00

    GR

  22. #22
    Gordon Misch's Avatar
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    Gordon

    N4328M KTDO
    My SPOT: tinyurl.com/N4328M (case sensitive)

  23. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by SteveE
    Not mach 7, sorry.
    Mike, your are right, sort of. Just got off the phone with my brother in law. Air Force F-16s, T 38 instructor and Air Force Academy. They did a study at the Academy on the Blackbird. Officially the speed is Mach 3+. Unofficially and unpublished its Mach 5+ (they figured it out it the Academy). It is because of the design of the engine and the cones in front of the engine. It is designed that the more you compress air into it, the faster it goes. He said they never published the top speed so the "bad guys" would not know how fast to make a missile. Even when they set speed records, they never pushed it.

    Thats what he tells me, and I am stickin to it.
    I was until 2003 a AF aerospace maintenance tech. you can bet your boot laces, top speed of the SR-71 is classified and likely always will be.
    in fact top speeds of many of our aircraft are classified and would amaze most of you. speed records, so what. Published top speeds Ha!

  24. #24
    Greg Smith's Avatar
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    I was stationed at RAF Mildenhall from 1982 to 1984 as an LE with the 513th SPS. We were allowed in the hangar, and even got to walk around on top of the SR. I was surprised by a number of things... The front canopy was always open, and the front cockpit was so... Ordinary. The RAM finish was very rough, and those gray tires were shredded, with cord showing all over (Definitely not befitting a plane of that stature). Not the least surprising was the fact that we were allowed in the hangar, and that we were allowed to walk on the plane!

    I mentioned the front canopy was always open. The rear canopy was NEVER open, and the windows were ALWAYS covered.

    You could always tell when an SR was going to launch in the morning. At about 4 a.m., three KC-135-Qs would take off. That was the cue. Several hours later, "Spy Corner", a small turnout along the north fence line would be packed with British nationals, there to watch the Blackbird leave. The carefully orchestrated taxi out and runup was cool to watch, no matter how many times you saw it. And no matter where you were, when it left, you knew it. No aircraft makes as much noise as a Blackbird.

  25. #25
    mvivion's Avatar
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    Passed along by a friend:

    Subject: SR-71 breakup at Mach 3.18
    You may have seen this, most interesting; jane g
    In-Flight Breakup of an SR-71 Blackbird
    by Bill Weaver, Chief Test Pilot, Lockheed
    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 unstarts 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 318 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 certifying 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.

  26. #26

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    Quote Originally Posted by Eddy Current
    I mentioned the front canopy was always open. The rear canopy was NEVER open, and the windows were ALWAYS covered.
    Thats where the secrets live.

    Its no longer secret and probably many of you know, the camera has a rotating lens, it rolls on the longitudinal axis and with each revolution takes a photograph 80 miles wide from horizon to horizon. unless I am mistaken, only the lowest resolution photos were ever made public.

  27. #27
    gdrean's Avatar
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    MTV,

    My long time friend here in San Diego is married to Bill Weaver's daughter. Been to dinners with my friend and Bill over the years. Amazing guy. Takes some prodding, but the stories will come out but like most of the great pilots, factual, not bragging. He is still flying L1011's with a rocket and satellite attached that is launch at altitude during some interesting maneuvers. He has great delivery, even the wives enjoy the stories (even though I am sure Bill's wife has heard them before). For a while his bailout (well I guess he had the aircraft disintegrate around him) was the highest survived. Might still be.

    Gary
    GDrean

  28. #28
    mvivion's Avatar
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    I would think that getting out and walking at mach 3.18 and surviving would tend to make one a bit more humble if he wasn't to start with.

    I love the part about wrestling with his chute, and someone asking if he needed assistance. Twilight Zone, anyone?

    MTV

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