Story: SR-71 Pilots Show Off

The SR-71 Blackbird is hands-down my favorite jet. I may have to get a copy of this book, Sled Driver by Brian Shul, from which this anecdote is excerpted.
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.
This is also an incredible idea to visualize:
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.
SR-71: Now, That Was Some Airplane []
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11 Responses to Story: SR-71 Pilots Show Off

  1. TheOzz says:

    I hate to bust everyone’s bubble here, but this story is not very realistic. Even if the local ATC could see the SR-71 on radar, the bird would have only been within range for less than two minutes while traveling at more than 30 miles per minute. Never mind the fact that the speed in this article is nearly 140 knots above the published speed records of the SR-71 from coast-to-coast. The record from LA to the east coast was set at 1,846 knots. That record was measured when traveling from the west coast to east coast and measured in terms of ground speed. The only west bound record that I could find was from London to LA. That record was measured at only 1,247 knots which is the same direction the SR-71 was traveling in this story.

  2. Dan Blum says:

    I may have to get a copy of this book, Sled Driver by Brian Shul…

    I was thinking that, too, until I saw it cost $427. (A used copy can be had for as little as $130, to be sure.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    came across your “Story: SR-71 Pilots Show Off” while reading up on the bird. If you ever make it out to kansas…….yes kansas. we have one on display at the kansas cosmophere in hutchinson kansas, I don’t remeber the number it has but next time I am there I will get pics, here is their web site but i didn’t see any pictures of it. and here they make mention of it listed under other projects.

  4. Marie says:

    $427! my my!

  5. Marshall says:

    I was all hot for this book too, until I saw the price.

    I’ve had an obsession with the SR-71 since I was a wee lad. My father brought home a series of huge exploded diagrams of the plane, and I obsessed over them for years. Recently I stayed in a SR-71 themed hotel room in a motel near Iowa City, and I’ve recently discovered that they have a trainer model on permanent display at the Aerospace Museum in Exposition Park here in Los Angeles.

    It’s totally surreal to park your car 20 feet away from one of these. The triangular plate pattern on the underside of the aircraft is possibly one of the most beautiful things the defense industry has ever produced.

  6. absolutetrust says:

    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.

    Huh? Cause they were flying faster than the speed of … light?

    • Joel Johnson says:

      I took it to mean that they were moving so fast that the explosions appeared, then receded quickly away, making them appear to wink into nothing.

  7. ggm says:

    And there is a SR71 on a stick in Balboa Park.

  8. Comedian says:

    My local library didn’t have it, but I got a copy to read through inter-library loan.

    It was worth the paperwork to get a chance to read the book as a long-ago rabid Blackbird fan, but I think that anyone spending a dollop of dough on this book without having had a chance to see/read it first would likely regret the purchase.

  9. Carl Rigney says:

    I didn’t get the chance to go there on this trip, but the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon southwest of Portland says it has an SR-71 on display, along with the Spruce Goose, and an IMAX film about the Spruce Goose. I hope to visit it someday.

  10. KevinQ says:

    The Smithsonian Air and Space museum has a Blackbird out at their hangar-style museum near Dulles Airport. I got out there about two weeks ago and took a few pictures. You can walk all around and above the Blackbird. It’s such a beautiful aircraft.

    I got some pictures with my cellphone:

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