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FROM AN SR-71 PILOT.......Very interesting read....
SR-71 Blackbird




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 photographs recording the damage our F-111's 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 a Marine Major (Walt), the aircraft's reconnaissance systems officer (RSO).

We had crossed into Libya , and were approaching our final turn over the bleak desert landscape, when Walt 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,' Walt 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 refuelling 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.



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.. (Wow ! ! ! 40 planes???? I thought only 7.)

Special heat-resistant fuel, oil, and hydraulic fluids, that would function at 85,000 feet, and higher, also had to be developed.


In 1962, the first Blackbird successfully flew, and in 1966, the same year I graduated from high school, the Air Force began flying operational SR-71 missions.

I came to the program in 1983, with a sterling record and a recommendation from my commander, completing the weeklong interview, and meeting Walt, 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 a high Mach speed 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 Forty 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 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 Walt's mike button in the rear seat.

In his most innocent voice, Walt 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 take-off, people took notice.

Traffic congregated near the airfield fences, because everyone wanted to see, and hear the mighty SR-71.

You could not be a part of this program, and not come to love the airplane.

Slowly, she revealed her secrets to us, as we earned her trust..

One moonless night, while flying a routine training mission over the Pacific, I wondered what the sky would look like from 84,000 feet, if the cockpit lighting were dark.

While heading home on a straight course, I slowly turned down all of the lighting, reducing the glare and revealing the night sky.

Within seconds, I turned the lights back up, fearful that the jet would know, and somehow punish me.

But my desire to see the sky, overruled my caution, I dimmed the lighting again.

To my amazement, I saw a bright light outside my window.

As my eyes adjusted to the view, I realized that the brilliance was the broad expanse of the Milky Way, now a gleaming stripe across the sky.

Where dark spaces in the sky, had usually existed, there were now dense clusters, of sparkling stars.

Shooting Stars, flashed across the canvas every few seconds.

It was like a fireworks display with no sound.

I knew I had to get my eyes back on the instruments, and reluctantly, I brought my attention back inside.

To my surprise, with the cockpit lighting still off, I could see every gauge, lit by starlight.

In the plane's mirrors, I could see the eerie shine of my gold spacesuit, incandescently illuminated, in a celestial glow.

I stole one last glance out the window. Despite our speed, we seemed still before the
heavens, humbled in the radiance of a much greater power.

For those few moments, I felt a part of something far more significant, than anything we were doing in the plane.

The sharp sound of Walt's voice on the radio, brought me back to the tasks at hand, as I prepared for our descent.


San Diego Aerospace Museum

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 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, 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. 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.
 

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Gotta love the SR-71. I was in the Pentagon with AF intelligence when LBJ told the world about our Black Bird (he was buying votes). That man should have been hung!! Every one knows it was original named the RS-71 until LBJ messed up the introduction in his bragging speech!! Thanks for the memories.
 

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A few more facts about the YF-12 which became the A-12 which actually was intended as a high mach speed interceptor and latter the reconnaissance SR-71, is that the titanium used to build them came from Russia under the guise of something non military. The aircraft would leak its fuel (JP7) while sitting on the ground as they did not have fuel cells. Instead the titanium skin held the fuel, but when the aircraft was at high mach speeds the aerodynamic friction of the atmosphere would heat the aircraft skin causing it to expand which then would seal the fuel from leaking. The aircraft would also grow in length and width do to the heat from air friction by about 6”-8”. Some of the aircraft surface temperatures at mach 3 were between 620° F-1,200°F. The JP7 fuel was has the highest flash point of any aviation fuel requiring a special starter fuel, Triethylborane (TEB) used to ignite the JP7. The SR71 had a small tank of the TRB starter fuel which was good for one ground start of the two engines and about four or five engine restarts if a engine had a flame out while in flight, but at mach 2 or higher speeds the lose of thrust from one engine would create a asymmetrical thrust that would pitch the aircraft perpendicular to the direction of flight and aerodynamic forces would tear the aircraft apart which lead to several SR-71 losses. The Pratt & Whitney J58 engine was a nine stage axial flow bypass engine producing 32,500 pounds of thrust each. The J58 still is the highest thrust air breathing jet engine ever produced.

There are more exceptional engineering aspects to this small series of aircraft, but the most amazing aspect to the YF12, A-12, and SR-71 is they were completely engineered with paper and pensile, slide rulers, and the original Mk1 computers, the human brain.
 

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The book Skunk Works, written by Ben Rich, is an excellent book that dives into the engineering challenges they had with "The Sled"

I got to see an A12 mated with M21 once a month when I brought the kids to the Museum of Flight kiddies workshop, for many years. Even drank beers under the wing of the Blackbird once a year at the Hops and Props festival.

I became a member of the Museum of Flight in 1982 when Boeing guys and volunteers began restoring "The Red Barn" where Bill Boeing built the first of his planes in 1916 and have been a senior member ever since.

I even got to help restore the Boeing "Bee" B17F in the late 90's.

I was blessed to work in the aviation industry. And felt blessed that America had that "Sled" during the cold war. It was an instrumental vehicle in helping us bring down that wall later in 1989.
 

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For your viewing pleasure, SR 71 pilot Major Brian Suhl describing the infamous LA speed check in his own words.
 

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Big Mak,
That is quite the privilege that you’ve sat under a A-12 with the drone mounted drinking a beer no less. That is one bird I’ve always wanted to physically lay a hand on.

At Wright Patterson I was able to caress the landing gear strut of the prototype B-1. The gloss white one with the red and blue eagle paint on the under side. Then walk fifty or so paces and run my hand along the leading edge of the wing of the prototype A-10. The one with shorter vertical tail and spin test recovery shute mount on the top end of the fuselage. When in the Army at Aberdeen, Maryland, one weekend I traveled to DC to see the Smithsonian Air & Space museum. I spent two days touring that museum. I remember staring at the Bell X-1 and one of the X-15 hanging from the ceiling for several hours as I just could not take my eyes off them and wanted to touch those two record setting historical aircraft.
 

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I built at least 5 x X15 models in my youth. Finally got close to one at Smithonian air museum at age 55
 

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I built at least 5 x X15 models in my youth. Finally got close to one at Smithonian air museum at age 55
I built ten or eleven X-15 models kits as a kid. I had one in each color, black and white and in several configurations, like the one test version that had the two external fuel tanks which I fabricated, and a Monogram 1:72 B-52 that I converted to a NB-52B because I liked the Balls 8 nick name and mounted a Revell X-15 under the right wing. I had to modify the external bomb rack. That kit bash was akin to installing a Chevy engine in a Ford. I even had the Easties model rocket X-15. My Dad had a subscription to several monthly aviation magazine, and every time I saw a new test version of a X-15, a new model kit was built to replicate it. I even had a Lindberg 1:144 scale X-15 that carried with me. Needless to say that the X-15 is my all time favorite aircraft tied with the A-10 Warthog.
 

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Some suggested reading on the SR-71 and the U-2

Helmet Musical instrument Sports gear Wine Liquid


Yea though I walk thru the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil- 'cause I am at 70,000 and CLIMBING!
 
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