>We take off out of Beale, hit a tanker in Idaho, rip on up to Montana, zip across Denver, hang(?) a right turn Albuquerque, out over Los Angeles, up to Seattle, back into Sacramento. 2 hours, 21 minutes.
I decided to [plot that on Google Maps](https://goo.gl/maps/yuCnMN55g182
) ... Jesus Christ.
I got to hear Brian speak at a small conference a while back. Before he spoke, the conference was pretty boring and I was getting ready to sneak out. Some of the people I was with were nodding toward the door like they were planning to ditch too. Just then Brian took the podium and started telling his Blackbird stories. The mood in the room lifted right away. Everyone was transfixed and laughing. I happily stayed for the whole thing and got to talk with him afterward. He's a great storyteller and has lived quite an amazing life.
My favorite Blackbird story:
The "Blackbird" routinely flew up to 80,000 feet (officially). In the U.S., the airspace normally used by commercial airliners is between 18,000 and 60,000 feet; all flights between those altitudes must have a clearance from air traffic control. Flights above 60,000 feet are in uncontrolled airspace, and therefore do not need a clearance, but you gotta go thru controlled airspace to get there.
The story goes that a newbie air traffic controller got a request for clearance one day from an aircraft using call sign "Aspen," which is what all Blackbirds flying out of Beale AFB used on training missions. The request was for "clearance to 60,000 feet." The new controller, unaware he was speaking to a Blackbird pilot, assumed someone was trying to prank him. After all, the only commercial airliner capable of climbing to 60,000 feet was the Concorde, which did not operate routinely in California.
The young controller's response to what he thought was a gag radio request? With a clearly derisive note in his voice he said, "Roger Aspen; if you can get to 60,000 feet you're cleared."
To which the Aspen pilot replied with the bland, almost bored tone of all professional pilots, "Roger Center, *descending to 60,000*."
QUICK POST THE OTHER ONE
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 I 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 refuelling 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 levelled 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.’
Fun Fact: The SR-71 is so fast it simply accelerates to evade enemy missiles
I'm a simple man, I see a SR-71 speed check post, I upvote.
I genuinely thought this was finally going to answer how those "speed enforced by aircraft" signs actually work. Was disappointed
My fav SR-71 story
"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-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 refueling tanker awaiting us over Gibraltar."