15 February 2008
Faster Than A Speeding Bullet!
"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. "
When Gary Powers' U-2 was shot down in 1960, my old man opened my mind to "outside the box" thinking. To the general public, the U-2 was a revelation... we had been flying over the Soviet Union with impunity for years! My mind reeled when Dad asked, "I wonder what else we've got brewing?" We learned the answer to that question a few years later... the SR-71 "Blackbird".
I love SR-71 stories. I once sat next to a guy in a classroom setting for a couple weeks that had been a back-seater in the airplane. His stories of suiting up like an Astronaut, wearing thick flight gloves to protect against the heat of the canopy fascinated me. A few of his insights surprised me... The airplane made much use of titanium because of the heat it would be exposed to at such high airspeeds. He said that titanium had to be procured through surreptitious channels because it was mined in the U.S.S.R.!
Fuel lines were routed around the cockpit to act as heat absorbers to help keep the pilot and RSO cool.
At missions end, the pilot and RSO were frequently winched from the airplane because the fuselage was too hot to be touched.
Stuff of legend, to be sure.
Knowing I'd enjoy it, a friend brought this account to my attention. It's a little long and will take a while to read, but I must admit I got a little misty at the end of the telling, so I enthusiastically recommend it to those of you that are also fly-crazy.
Let me know what you think.