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How slow can an SR 71 fly ?... A short story

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posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 05:35 PM
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After reading a few comments in another thread about the SR 71. I decided to do a little looking around to see just how slow an SR 71 could fly. I ended up finding this story and decided to copy and paste it here for anyone that may have an interest in such matters. Enjoy !!


Brian Shul, Retired SR-71 Blackbird Pilot .....from "Plane and Pilot Magazine."

As a former SR-71 pilot and keynote speaker, the question I'm most often asked is : "How fast would that SR-71 fly ?" I can be assured of hearing that question several times at any event I attend.

It's an interesting question, given the aircraft's proclivity for speed. But there really isn't a single number to give . . As the turbo ramjet would always give you a little more speed. (If you wanted it to...)

It was common to see 35 miles a minute. But we typically flew a programmed Mach number. But because we never wanted to harm the plane in any way, we never let it run-out to any limits of temperature or speed.

Thus, each SR-71 pilot had his own personal high speed that he saw at some point during our missions. I saw my highest speed over Libya when Khadafy fired two missiles my way: max power was in order. Let's just say that the Blackbird truly loved speed . . And effortlessly took us to high Mach numbers . . We had not previously seen.

So it was with great surprise, when at the end of one of my presentations, someone asked, "What was the SLOWEST . . You ever flew the Blackbird ?" This was a first. After giving it some thought, I was reminded of a story that I had never shared before, and relayed the following: I was flying the SR-71 out of RAF Mildenhall, England, with my backseater, 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-by. The Commander of air cadets there was a former Blackbird pilot who 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. In the back seat, Walter had a myriad of sophisticated navigation equipment and he began to vector me toward the field.

Descending to subsonic, we found ourselves over a densely wooded area in the 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 as far as I could see in the haze, I saw nothing but trees. We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from our 325 knot cruise. With the gear up . . Anything under 275 knots (316 mph) was plain uncomfortable. Walt said we're practically over the field. Looking hard, I saw nothing that looked like an airfield.

I banked the jet and started a gentle circling maneuver. . Hoping to pick up anything that looked like a field. Meanwhile on the ground, the Commander had taken the Cadets up on the control tower's cat walk to get a prime view.

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 couldn't see it. But the longer we continued to circle and peer out . . The slower we got. With our throttles way back, the awaiting cadets heard silence.

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 s-l-i-d-e below 160 knots (180 mph), my heart stopped, as my adrenalin-filled left hand slammed both throttles FULL FORWARD, aka "Balls to the Wall !"

At this point we weren't really flying, but were falling in a slight bank. At the moment both afterburners lit with a thunderous roar of flame, the aircraft fell into full view of the shocked observers on the catwalk on the tower.

Shattering the absolute silence of the morning, they now had 107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their faces as the plane leveled and accelerated in full-burner, on their side of the infield much closer than expected. It could only be described as some sort of ultimate "knife-edge" aerobatic pass.

We proceeded back to Mildenhall without incident . . Not saying a word to each other 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-by he had ever seen. Especially how we had surprised them with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as . . breathtaking.

Apparently, some of the cadet's hats were blown off. The sight of the "plan view" of the plane in full afterburner dropping right in front of them was stunning and unbelievable. Walt and I both understood the concept of "breathtaking" very well that morning, and we sheepishly replied that the Cadets seemed 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.... and hadn't spoken a word since "the pass." Finally, Walter looked at me and said : "I saw One hundred fifty-six knots."

"What did you see" asked Walt ? Trying to find my voice I stammered "One hundred fifty-two..."(175 mph) We sat in silence for a moment. Then Walt calmly said "Don't ever do that to me again...."

I never did, and not sure I could. A year later, Walter and I were having lunch in the Mildenhall Officer's club, and overheard an officer talking to some cadets about an SR-71 fly-past that he'd seen.

Of course, by now the story included kids blown off the tower, and screaming as the heat of the jet singed their eyebrows.

As we stood there with lunch trays in our hands, the officer noticed our HABU shoulder patch icon of a deadly snake and asked us to verify to the Cadets that such an event occurred.

Walt just shook his head and said, "It was probably just a routine low approach......they're pretty impressive in that airplane." Impressive . . indeed.

Little did I realize that LOW SPEED experience . . would become one of the most requested stories. It's ironic, that people now became very interested in how slow the World's fastest jet aircraft can fly.




posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 05:44 PM
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a reply to: HarryJoy

And of course the infamous speed check story.

controversialtimes.com...



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 plane. Intense, 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 asked Center for a readout 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. “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 readout? 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 done – in 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 it. 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.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 05:47 PM
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I always love when he tells stories. Those two had some adventures.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 05:50 PM
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a reply to: HarryJoy

Thank you!
I never heard that story before!



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 05:50 PM
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a reply to: HarryJoy

great story. Thanks for sharing that. The Blackbird was my favorite plane as a kid and what drove me to be in the USAF.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 05:53 PM
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Awesome. Just awesome. I grew up to tales about them because my dad was career Air Force...
I'm all tingly....



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 05:55 PM
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I know I've said this before, but if you ever have the money to drop on his books, they're worth every dime.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 05:59 PM
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Prefer visuals to tall tales. Under full afterburner, blackbird is 45 seconds gone from the runway and they are still yelling to hear over the thunder...

edit on 6-1-2017 by intrptr because: (no reason given)



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:04 PM
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Good stuff! The SR-71 was definitely a milestone. I can only imagine what we have now in comparison, which I am sure is still secret. I doubt we would scrap an aircraft of its capabilities without a replacement.

I also am not surprised at its stall speed given its wingspan, or lack thereof.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:06 PM
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Legendary story's always a pleasure to re-read from magnificent crews and a incredible piece of engineering
all hail the mighty sled what a wonderful aircraft. such a shame they can no longer fly.

i have never seen one in the metal and would donate vital organs to see one in the air!



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:12 PM
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a reply to: grey580

Thank you...I actually had not read any of this pilot"s accounts until today when I was searching for the SR 71's stall speed. They are definitely very entertaining..thanks for posting that....



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:15 PM
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a reply to: iTruthSeeker


I doubt we would scrap an aircraft of its capabilities without a replacement.


Maiden flight was late 1964, long before satellite surveillance. SR 71 was a replacement for then high flying but slow and vulnerable U2.

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posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:19 PM
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a reply to: iTruthSeeker

Why wouldn't they? They've fudged numbers to try to get rid of aircraft before, and made idiotic decisions before. There's nothing to suggest this wasn't more of that.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:21 PM
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a reply to: ShayneJUK

We had one break off the east coast inbound from the UK. They wound up dropping in on us for a few days to get fixed. It was amazing when the man door on the hangar was opened and she was sitting there.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:23 PM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

This was at hickam? Or elsewhere. Either way pretty rad



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:25 PM
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a reply to: BASSPLYR

Pease. She was supposed to pass over after refueling but the celestial nav system crapped out. They had to send a tanker up to meet them and guide them to the base.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:29 PM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

Didnt know you worked up in new hampshire for a while. Pretty up there. Right on.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:32 PM
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a reply to: BASSPLYR

We spent three years with the 509th FB-111s. Had a few adventures with them. Watched one of ours go into a river one day, went to the crash site of a Plattsburgh -111 that went through a multi family home about an hour before school got out, watched a couple hundred people leave in a mass transfer that later turned out to be the core group for the F-117s...



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:32 PM
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a reply to: HarryJoy

Wow!

I just thought I came for the number, but that story was FASCINATING!

Thanks for sharing.



posted on Jan, 6 2017 @ 06:38 PM
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I didn't know until reading about the SR 71 today on Wikipedia...that 12 of them were "lost" with one death. Does anyone know how these losses came about ? Wikipedia gave no details..probably because none have ever been released...I assume.



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