Blackbird Aircraft Stories

It was a pure fun experience when we had our first day in the Sled. However, I wouldn’t say that Fun would be the first word to describe flying this plane. People often asked us if it was fun to fly the Jet, because of the fact that it was a SR-71. We loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact, and although we were the fastest guys on the block, there were a lot of things we couldn’t do in an SR-71.

He allowed me to experience luxury, and he understood that. The slightest mistake on the radio could lead to beheading, where fighter squadrons had honed their skills over the years. Walt was good at many things, but he couldn’t match my expertise in smooth-sounding radio transmissions. However, I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground. It was a part of my duties in the division responsible for aircraft operations. Throughout my entire flying career, it had been difficult for me to relinquish control of the radios. This practice was good for us when real missions began and we had to monitor four different radios. There was no incredible view from the back seat, so I felt a bit sorry for Walter. Finally, I was ahead of the jet. I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. There was no incredible view from the front seat, but the gauges were wired and functioning flawlessly. The jet was performing flawlessly, and we made the turn in Arizona. We were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane over the past ten months. However, we knew that soon we would be flying real missions, so we were starting to feel the pressure. We were ripping across the barren deserts below us at 80,000 feet. We needed 100 more hours in the jet to complete our training and achieve Ready Mission status. It happened during our final training sortie when Walt and I were flying.

“November Charlie 175, I’m indicating you at ninety knots on the surface,” responded Center as we listened. Unless we required to descend into their airspace, we were in unregulated airspace and typically would not communicate with them. While they had us on their radar (although briefly), the main radio conversation was from Los Angeles Center, far beneath us, overseeing everyday traffic in their region. I toggled the radio switches and observed the frequencies alongside him, just to understand what Walt had to deal with.

The radios had a poor sound quality, so pilots like Wayne John and Yeager Chuck always wanted to ensure better transmission. Over the years, the tone of the voice had become somewhat comforting to pilots everywhere. It seemed like the same guy was always talking, no matter which sector of the country we were flying in. It didn’t matter what sector of the country we were flying in, we always wanted the controllers to sound the same and have a similar tone.

620 on the ground, we have you, Center, 52 Dusty. He wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet and how he is the fastest dude in the valley today. He knows the true speed of Mojave, making sure that every bug is smashed from Mount Whitney. Then, Dusty asks Center why he has a million-dollar ground speed indicator in his cockpit. Before I reply, I’m thinking to myself, “Cool, he sounded very calm and confident.” I knew right away that he must be a Navy jock. Then, out of the blue, a navy F-18 pilot from Lemoore NAS came up on frequency. I think Dusty must be really impressed with his brethren Cessna and the Beechcraft, which can reach a ground speed of 1,125 knots. Just moments after Cessna’s inquiry, a Beech Twin piped up on frequency in a rather superior tone, asking about his ground speed.

I was conflicted. I had dedicated myself to achieving everything that we had strived for, the essence of everything that we had strived for. I understood that intervening on the radios at this moment would undermine the essence of everything that we had strived for and how crucial it was for us to develop as a team. That Hornet needed to be eliminated, and eliminated immediately. We would be leaving the area and the opportunity would vanish within seconds. It had to be done. However, I reminded myself that Walt was in charge of the radios as my hand instinctively reached for the microphone button. Isn’t this a perfect situation, I pondered to myself.

I came to you every day, requesting 20 Aspen, if there was any hesitation and without hesitation, I showed you knots, forty-two and eight hundred thousand one across the ground. 20 Aspen, Los Angeles Center, can give us a speed check on the ground. I knew that was a very emotional moment for Walter, and I had a very professional crew. The click of the mic button from the back seat. Then I heard it. Somewhere above Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his helmet, 13 miles above the ground.

“When the time came for me and Walt to be really good friends, I knew that we were going to be on the money, showing our gratitude to Center. With a voice that resembled a fighter pilot, he keyed the mic once again to say, ‘Thanks so much, Center.’ He knew exactly what he was doing, without any hesitation, delivering information that Center was proud of. I liked that the information was precise and accurate. I think it was at that precise point that he smiled, knowing that you knew exactly what he meant. And I thought the speed was impressive, reaching forty-two knots.”

It was truly a fun day one, with the guys out there being the fastest. For the entire way to the coast, we never heard another transmission on that frequency. The crew did a fine job of working all day. I crossed the threshold of being a crew member and, more importantly, Walter and I were forced to bow down to the King of Speed before the bow of the airplane. All mortal airplanes on the southwest coast had flamed out on the frequency, but those memorable moments only lasted for a short sprint across the navy. “You boys have probably been more accurate than us. Your equipment is our armor,” Roger said as he finally heard a little crack in the voice of the Houston Center. And for a moment, Walter was a god.