Dockside Chat - SR-71 fly-by below minimum speed (story)

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mikeloew
05-03-2013, 10:42 AM
Years ago my family got some advance notice that an SR-71 would be taking off from Milwaukee airport, needless to say a very, vary rare occurrence. We staked out a prime spot off the approch end of the runway. They did a fly over, my kids were really young than and still remember this to this day. What an amazing aircraft. My buddy sent me this story.

(Safety tip: Cross-check is important!)

Brian Shul, Retired SR-71 Pilot:

As a former SR-71 pilot, and a professional 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 one number to give, as the jet would always give you a little more speed if you wanted it to. It was common to see 35 miles a minute. Because we flew a programmed Mach number on most missions, and 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 individual “high” speed that he saw at some point on some mission. I saw mine over Libya when Khadafy fired two missiles my way, and max power was in order. Let’s just say that the plane truly loved speed and effortlessly took us to Mach numbers we hadn’t 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 back-seater, Walt Watson; we were returning from a mission over Europe and the Iron Curtain when we received a radio transmission from home base. As we scooted across Denmark in three minutes, we learned that a small RAF base in the English countryside had requested an SR-71 fly-past. The air cadet commander there was a former Blackbird pilot, and thought it would be a motivating moment for the young lads to see the mighty SR-71 perform a low approach. No problem, we were happy to do it. After a quick aerial refueling over the North Sea, we proceeded to find the small airfield.


Walter had a myriad of sophisticated navigation equipment in the back seat, and began to vector me toward the field. Descending to subsonic speeds, we found ourselves over a densely wooded area in a slight haze. Like most former WWII British airfields, the one we were looking for had a small tower and little surrounding infrastructure. Walter told me we were close and that I should be able to see the field, but I saw nothing.


Nothing but trees as far as I could see in the haze. We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from 325 knots we were at. With the gear up, anything under 275 was just uncomfortable. Walt said we were practically over the field—yet; there was nothing in my windscreen. I banked the jet and started a gentle circling maneuver in hopes of picking up anything that looked like a field. Meanwhile, below, the cadet commander had taken the cadets up on the catwalk of the tower in order to get a prime view of the fly-past. It was a quiet, still day with no wind and partial gray overcast.


Walter continued to give me indications that the field should be below us but in the overcast and haze, I couldn't see it. The longer we continued to peer out the window and circle, the slower we got. With our power back, the awaiting cadets heard nothing. I must have had good instructors in my flying career, as something told me I better cross-check the gauges. As I noticed the airspeed indicator slide below 160 knots, my heart stopped and my adrenalin-filled left hand pushed two throttles full forward. At this point we weren't really flying, but were falling in a slight bank. Just at the moment that both afterburners lit with a thunderous roar of flame (and what a joyous feeling that was) the aircraft fell into full view of the shocked observers on the tower. Shattering the still quiet of that morning, they now had 107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their face as the plane leveled and accelerated, in full burner, on the tower side of the infield, closer than expected, maintaining what could only be described as some sort of ultimate knife-edge pass.
Quickly reaching the field boundary, we proceeded back to Mildenhall without incident. We didn't say a word for those next 14 minutes.
After landing, our commander greeted us, and we were both certain he was reaching for our wings. Instead, he heartily shook our hands and said the commander had told him it was the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen, especially how we had surprised them with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as breathtaking. He said that some of the cadet’s hats were blown off and the sight of the plan form of the plane in full afterburner dropping right in front of them was unbelievable. Walt and I both understood the concept of “breathtaking” very well that morning, and sheepishly replied that they were just excited to see our low approach.
As we retired to the equipment room to change from space suits to flight suits, we just sat there-we hadn't spoken a word since “the pass.” Finally, Walter looked at me and said, “One hundred fifty-six knots.
What did you see?” Trying to find my voice, I stammered, “One hundred fifty-two.” We sat in silence for a moment. Then Walt said, “Don’t ever do that to me again!” And I never did.


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 had seen one day. Of course, by now the story included kids falling off the tower and screaming as the heat of the jet singed their eyebrows. Noticing our HABU patches, as we stood there with lunch trays in our hands, he asked us to verify to the cadets that such a thing had occurred. Walt just shook his head and said, “It was probably just a routine low approach; they're pretty impressive in that plane.” Impressive indeed.


Little did I realize after relaying this experience to my audience that day that it would become one of the most popular and most requested stories. It’s ironic that people are interested in how slow the world’s fastest jet can fly. Regardless of your speed, however, it’s always a good idea to keep that cross-check up…and keep your Mach up, too.


Qb1rdman
05-03-2013, 10:57 AM
Great story.

yachtjim
05-03-2013, 11:02 AM
Must have been a sight to see!


toby10
05-03-2013, 11:05 AM
Great story. We had a Blackbird come in for emergency repairs when I was in the Air Force. And yes, EVERYONE wanted to know the top speed of that bird. At that time, the Air Force published Mach x.xx plus (don't ask me what the speed was cause I can't remember). And the ONLY reason that speed was known was because it was clocked in an open trial.

Cracker
05-03-2013, 11:17 AM
Truly brave men with bigger balls than mine....My hat is off to anyone that can do that for a living...

bottom knocker
05-03-2013, 11:30 AM
When I was a kid my dad took me to an air show where we got a great, close up demonstration from a marine Harrier VSTOL. Hovering, going backwards, sideways, then pivoting and slowly hovering away and then taking off. They told us to hold our ears... NO WAY was I holding my ears.. it was awesome.

louiefl
05-03-2013, 11:51 AM
I moved from engineering cars to engineering military jet engines at Pratt Whitney. PW opened a campus in the late 50's in West Palm Beach in the middle of nowhere so they could test without prying eyes and noise complaints. The J-58 engines, like everything else on the platform, tested technology and material limits. This picture is one of them on the test stand - the big difference now is that current engines do not glow red like this. It was explained to me that the material properties go to hell when they get hot, but still does have some strength.

mikeloew
05-03-2013, 11:58 AM
It was explained to me years ago that the Blackbird should not be left sitting on the ramp for very long with fuel in the wings. It would leak out and leave a outline on the ramp. It would only become fuel tight at speed, as the aircraft expanded so much. What an engineering feat that was in those days.

Qb1rdman
05-03-2013, 12:20 PM
When I was a kid my dad took me to an air show where we got a great, close up demonstration from a marine Harrier VSTOL. Hovering, going backwards, sideways, then pivoting and slowly hovering away and then taking off. They told us to hold our ears... NO WAY was I holding my ears.. it was awesome.

can you hear me now?:)

Uncas
05-03-2013, 12:41 PM
The SR-71 had two of these puppies....
General comments on sr-71 propulsion system • the sr-71 was the finest air breathing jet aircraft ever developed, built, and flown. Designed to fly at mach 3.2, wind tunnel tested to mach 3.5, and flew missions at mach 3.3+, at altitudes of 86,000+ feet. • the p&w j-58 (jt11d-20) was the finest air breathing jet engine ever developed, built, and flown. It had the power of the Queen Mary; started life with 30,000 pounds of thrust, and ended with 34,000#. • the “propulsion system” consisted of the air inlet and air flow control system, the j-58 engine, and the exhaust nozzle assembly (part of the airframe). • at mach 3.2, 54% of the thrust was provided by the inlet (differential pressure between external and internal surfaces of the inlet spike), 17% by the engine, and 29% by the ejector. Engine acted as a gas generator. • engine operates from 4,000 rpm (idle) to 7,400 rpm (max).

http://www.enginehistory.org/Convention/2005/Presentations/LawPete/SR-71Propulsion1.pdf

Edstillfishing
05-03-2013, 07:11 PM
Saw one land and takeoff at Patrick AFB. Rumor control said he flamed out over Central America and glided to Patrick. When he took off it climbed like no other aircraft I have ever seen. Bad ass plane.
Ed

Fiberglass1 Inc
05-03-2013, 07:51 PM
I live a few miles from the P & W test stands and when they run the RL10's and the new engine for the F35 (I think that's what it is) it's pretty damn impressive. And some friends who retired from Pratt worked on the J58 so they're always telling me great stories about the Blackbird. But this story.....156 knots at more or less no altitude.......this is by far the BEST one I've heard! Talk about the classic situation of running out of airspeed, altitude and ideas all at the same time, this pretty much covers it.

atcfris
05-03-2013, 08:05 PM
Awesome story!!!!

yachtjim
05-03-2013, 08:16 PM
If we are reading about this stuff now, imagine the "black" projects that they are doing right now that we'll be reading about in 40 years. Must be some crazy stuff out there.

Bruce W
05-03-2013, 10:48 PM
Great story. We had a Blackbird come in for emergency repairs when I was in the Air Force. And yes, EVERYONE wanted to know the top speed of that bird. At that time, the Air Force published Mach x.xx plus (don't ask me what the speed was cause I can't remember). And the ONLY reason that speed was known was because it was clocked in an open trial.

I use to hear educated guesses of around 2,500mph? :o;?

I just posted some pics in a related thread ... http://www.thehulltruth.com/dockside-chat/505044-transporting-sr-71-blackbird-burbank-area-51-a.html

Regards,

mitchk
05-04-2013, 05:08 AM
Saw one land and takeoff at Patrick AFB. Rumor control said he flamed out over Central America and glided to Patrick. When he took off it climbed like no other aircraft I have ever seen. Bad ass plane.
Ed


You can make a dead stick landing on one?

STIPulation
05-04-2013, 05:30 AM
I use to hear educated guesses of around 2,500mph? :o;?

I just posted some pics in a related thread ... http://www.thehulltruth.com/dockside-chat/505044-transporting-sr-71-blackbird-burbank-area-51-a.html

Regards,

The one the Smithsonian has on display at the Udvar-Hazy center at Dulles set four records getting there from CA. LA to DC in 1:04:19.89, averaging 2144.83 mph.

http://www.wvi.com/~sr71webmaster/972record1.htm

Trayder
05-04-2013, 07:12 AM
If we are reading about this stuff now, imagine the "black" projects that they are doing right now that we'll be reading about in 40 years. Must be some crazy stuff out there.


Not quite as impressive as the SR-71

Funding is a bit different now than it was then.

CaptKennyW
05-04-2013, 07:14 AM
All these words and no pictures??


http://iliketowastemytime.com/sites/default/files/sr71_blackbird3.jpg
http://www.bhmpics.com/download/lockheed_sr_71_blackbird-1920x1200.jpg
http://www.lockheedmartin.com/content/dam/lockheed/data/corporate/photo/sr-71-2.jpg
http://www.zeusbox.com/wallpapers/nasa_sr71_blog4-1280x800.jpg

aFORDable
05-04-2013, 08:15 AM
You can make a dead stick landing on one?

You can dead stick land any fixed wing aircraft, if you have enough altitude.

They dead stick the space suttle from over the Pacific all the way to FL.

mikeloew
05-04-2013, 08:33 AM
CaptKenny those are some of the best shots I have ever seen. The NASA SR-71 is the bird I saw in Milwaukee years ago.

BlueRudy
05-04-2013, 09:56 AM
Great story. Thanks for sharing.

walleyeguy6
05-04-2013, 10:13 AM
Unbelievable stuff. I posted another Brian Shul story on the other thread referenced. Truly amazing airplane.

tango tomas
05-04-2013, 10:23 AM
My favorite airplane of all time and I am an airplane nut!! 24 years at Lockheed with many great memories.

mitchk
05-04-2013, 11:32 AM
You can dead stick land any fixed wing aircraft, if you have enough altitude.

They dead stick the space suttle from over the Pacific all the way to FL.

My concern was control ability and landing speed on very high speed capable aircraft. I'm no expert but it's much more difficult with such limited wing lift. Here is something I just dug up from a guy who allegedly knew them well.

" If you were to shut down both SR engines at any low airspeed, you immediately lose hydraulic pressure and would have to eject. We had only one step to our emergency procedures of a dual hydraulic pump failure: EJECT! The windmilling rpm from a dead engine is not sufficient at low airspeed (probably under 250 knots or so) to keep the hydraulic pumps circulating fluid. The problem compounds itself as you slow down even more. The windmilling engines begin to turn slower and slower, the resulting drag from non-rotating engines increases greater and greater. This results in a very rapid decrease in airspeed or altitude...to the point where you are probably headed straight down. Richard H. Graham"

buddy29766
05-04-2013, 12:49 PM
Saw them all the time in the early 80's while stationed in Okinawa .

ladyjane
05-04-2013, 04:56 PM
I personally think they are lieing about full speed numbers. With that airframe and engines I think what they told the public lets double it!!!!!

tcbetka
05-04-2013, 07:08 PM
When I was in medical school I had a patient that was hospitalized with a serious foot infection that kept him there for like two weeks. Since medical students only had a few patients, I had a lot of time to spend with them. Well this fellow found out that I was a pilot and confided that he had worked on the design team of the SR-71. When he found out I was also an aircraft mechanic, I couldn't stop him from telling me every little detail he remembered about the design and (mainly) flight testing of the aircraft. He remembered (seemingly) every detail of EVERY training accident they had during the life of the aircraft. He was on the "go" team for these, and apparently would have to travel anywhere in the world, if one of the aircraft had an issue. It was a BIG deal. Anyway, among other things he also told me about the mechanical system they had to engineer for control of the inlets on the engines--it was truly amazing. To do that, to that degree, with a slide rule and what primitive computing they had back then...was awe-inspiring.

He told me some stuff about the aircraft that I'm not sure he was supposed to, LOL. I've never told another person, nor will I ever tell anyone else. Most of it I don't really remember honestly. I didn't think much about it at the time because the medication he was on made him a bit 'loopy' (for lack of a better term), so I just wrote it off to him making up stories. However this was almost 20 years ago and as I've heard more and more information being made public since then, I realize that he was probably more accurate than not.

Suffice it to say that I believe that the aircraft can go much faster than publicized.

TB

Thalasso
05-04-2013, 10:01 PM
You can dead stick land any fixed wing aircraft, if you have enough altitude.

They dead stick the space suttle from over the Pacific all the way to FL.

:thumbsup::thumbsup:

tcbetka
05-05-2013, 08:26 AM
Sure...as long as the control systems have power. I don't know the systems on the SR-71, but maybe they don't have power when both engines flame-out? A lot of large turbojet aircraft have little ram-air turbines that can be deployed, but I don't know what sort of system that aircraft carried.

A guy can review the flight manual for the SR71 though, as it's available online here (http://www.sr-71.org/blackbird/manual/).

TB

mitchk
05-05-2013, 09:06 AM
The flight manual seems to say the same as the fellow I quoted above.

King P.V.
05-05-2013, 09:50 AM
High school, late '60's . End of the flight line at Kadena A.F.B. Dad took me to see something I had never even heard of before. Waited, waited. waited.... WTF was that???? Don't tell anyone you just saw that!! My 1st. one.

FishnDive
05-05-2013, 10:03 AM
I was an acft mech stationed in Ga in the late 60s. We had the plane ready to go, dawn was just breaking and we were sitting out on the flight line smoking when we saw what we thought were two fighters coming next to each other, WTF. We climbed into the plane dropped the top hatch and went on top of the plane for a better view. We saw the SR 71 taxi over to the SAC side of the runway and into a hangar.

When our supervisor came by we asked if he saw the plane, the conversation went something like this. Did you see that? See what? That plane that came in. What plane? The spacy futuristic one that went over to SAC. Did you see it? Nope, and neither did you.

Bruce W
05-05-2013, 09:07 PM
I use to hear educated guesses of around 2,500mph? :o;?

I just posted some pics in a related thread ... http://www.thehulltruth.com/dockside-chat/505044-transporting-sr-71-blackbird-burbank-area-51-a.html

Regards,

The one the Smithsonian has on display at the Udvar-Hazy center at Dulles set four records getting there from CA. LA to DC in 1:04:19.89, averaging 2144.83 mph.

http://www.wvi.com/~sr71webmaster/972record1.htm

Bad headwind? Parking brake not completely released? :o;?:grin:

Regards,

tduling
05-06-2013, 09:34 AM
Saw them all the time in the early 80's while stationed in Okinawa .:thumbsup::thumbsup:

Captain Willie
05-06-2013, 10:14 AM
I observed a flamed out Lockheed TR-1A land at Patrick AFB in 1985.

Never heard of the Blackbird incident. Cool .

toby10
05-06-2013, 12:05 PM
Saw one land and takeoff at Patrick AFB. Rumor control said he flamed out over Central America and glided to Patrick. When he took off it climbed like no other aircraft I have ever seen. Bad ass plane.
Ed

I seem to remember that the F15 can out climb the Blackbird but you would not see that happening at most air bases as the civilian population just does not tolerate the sonic boom.

I realy don't miss all that much from my Air Force days but I did love the sound of the jets on burner!

mikeloew
05-06-2013, 01:51 PM
[quote=toby10;5618739]I seem to remember that the F15 can out climb the Blackbird quote]

not up to 85 thousand feet:grin:

toby10
05-07-2013, 09:59 AM
Yeah, the service ceiling of the Eagle is a tad bit lower :grin:

Captain Willie
05-07-2013, 11:14 AM
[quote=toby10;5618739]I seem to remember that the F15 can out climb the Blackbird quote]

not up to 85 thousand feet:grin:

Well--the Streak Eagle held (maybe still does) the world time to climb record.

It hit 103,000 ft---look it up. Somewhere around 3.5 minutes from brake release. 0-160 in 4 secs. She was bad. :grin:

toby10
05-07-2013, 12:18 PM
Sounds about right for the climb rate-30k in about a minute. The "normal" ceiling is much lower. They probably used the bird they modified to carry the anti-satellite rockets.

Instead of saying it could out climb the Blackbird, I should have said that it is the only bird we have that can accelerate through a vertical climb. Not bad for another aircraft designed and developed in the late 60 early 70's.

I'd surely take a ride in either of these babies!!

Captain Willie
05-07-2013, 12:43 PM
Sounds about right for the climb rate-30k in about a minute. The "normal" ceiling is much lower. They probably used the bird they modified to carry the anti-satellite rockets.

Instead of saying it could out climb the Blackbird, I should have said that it is the only bird we have that can accelerate through a vertical climb. Not bad for another aircraft designed and developed in the late 60 early 70's.

I'd surely take a ride in either of these babies!!

Yep. The Streak was one of the test models stripped down and unpainted.

If you gave it full throttle while the breaks were on---she would flip over. The record was to 98k plus---she coasted to 103K after the record. The aircraft lost some stability until she descended a little from the 103K.

Design59
05-07-2013, 01:24 PM
For those interested, there is a very good book on the subject of the SR-71 / U-2 projects.

Book is called Skunk Works, written by Ben Rich.
He was a young Lockeed aerodynamics engineer that was moved over to the Skunk Works on a temporary (6 week) assignment to help with a problem on the movable air inlets on the U-2, and ended up staying the next 30+ years and became the head of Skunk Works.

It is an interesting first hand account of both planes, with extensive first hand accounts from others involved in both the build and the flying.

Trivia - The fuel they developed for the high altitude flight had most of the same chemical makeup as a popular 1950's bug spray called Flitz. The first year the U-2 was in operation there was a nationwide shortage of bug spray until the mfg. caught up.

STIPulation
05-07-2013, 01:28 PM
Yep. The Streak was one of the test models stripped down and unpainted.

If you gave it full throttle while the breaks were on---she would flip over. The record was to 98k plus---she coasted to 103K after the record. The aircraft lost some stability until she descended a little from the 103K.

I took a ground school class offered by the school when I was at North Dakota State. The instructor was a former Air Force pilot. When teaching about air density he talked about being in ROTC and taking a "field trip"to the Grand Forks AFB one January. Cold as hell, maybe -30° F or lower. The Russians had just retaken the time to altitude record, and the US was about to get it back. He didn't mention the Streak Eagle by name, but he described it.

welder
05-07-2013, 08:12 PM
How fast does she fly?
She has out ran SAMS and sams fly 4000mph.

You do the math.

C Skip R
05-07-2013, 08:49 PM
When I was stationed in Takhli, Thailand in 69-70 they would occasionally land always at night and taxi right to the hangar. An impressive sight.

toby10
05-08-2013, 09:24 AM
How fast does she fly?
She has out ran SAMS and sams fly 4000mph.

You do the math.

Well, that is sort of a yes and no answer. When you have a 7-8 mile "head start" you don't neccessarily have to fly faster than what is chasing you provided you recognize the threat and make the correct response. SAM's have limited range compared to what it chases.

Do I believe the top speed was Mach 3.2 plus? No, but I don't think it was in excess of Mach 5.5 either.

No matter what it's top speed is, I doubt we will ever build another aircraft that would match it.



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