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Neat Sled Driver story

temcgrew

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Written by Brian Schul - former sled driver

There were a lot of things we couldn't do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact.

People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. Even cerebral. But there was one day in our Sled experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fastest guys out there, at least for a moment.

It occurred when Walt and I were flying our final training sortie. We needed 100 hours in the jet to complete our training and attain Mission Ready status. Somewhere over
Colorado we had passed the century mark. We had made the turn in Arizona and the jet was performing flawlessly. My gauges were wired in the front seat and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be flying real missions but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane in the past ten months. Ripping across the barren deserts 80,000 feet below us, I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. I was, finally, after many humbling months of simulators and study, ahead of the jet.

I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walt in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital. It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the radios, as during my entire flying career I had controlled my own transmissions. But it was part of the division of duties in this plane and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn't match my expertise at sounding smooth on the radios, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in fighter squadrons where the slightest radio miscue was grounds for beheading. He understood that and allowed me that luxury. Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him. The predominant radio chatter was from
Los Angeles Center, far below us, controlling daily traffic in their sector. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uncontrolled airspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to descend into their airspace.

We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed. Center replied:

November Charlie 175, I'm showing you at ninety knots on the ground.

Now the thing to understand about Center controllers, was that whether they were talking to a rookie pilot in a Cessna, or to Air Force One, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional, tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the "
Houston Center voice." I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country's space program and listening to the calm and distinct voice of the Houston controllers, that all other controllers since then wanted to sound like that... and that they basically did. And it didn't matter what sector of the country we would be flying in, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to pilots everywhere. Conversely, over the years, pilots always wanted to ensure that, when transmitting, they sounded like Chuck Yeager, or at least like John Wayne. Better to die than sound bad on the radios.

Just moments after the Cessna's inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his groundspeed.

I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed.

Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren.

Then out of the blue, a navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency. You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radios.

Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check

Before Center could reply, I'm thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million-dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a readout? Then I got it, ‘ol Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from
Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is. He's the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet.

And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion:

Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground.

And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what? As my hand instinctively reached for the mic button, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the radios. Still, I thought, it must be done - in mere seconds we'll be out of the sector and the opportunity will be lost. That Hornet must die, and die now.

I thought about all of our Sim training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the radios now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn. Somewhere, 13 miles above
Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his space helmet.

Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke:

Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?

There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request.

Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground.

I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling. But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot- like voice:

Ah, Center, much thanks,

We're showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money.

For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the
Houston Center voice, when L.A. came back with,

Roger that
Aspen. Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one.

It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on that freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day's work.

We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast. For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there.
...............................................................................................................

In another famous SR-71 story, Los Angeles Center reported receiving a request for clearance to FL 600 (60,000ft). The incredulous controller, with some disdain in his voice, asked, "How do you plan to get up to 60,000 feet?

The pilot (obviously a sled driver), responded, "We don't plan to go up to it; we plan to go down to it."

He was cleared.

 

Huggyu2

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Brian's last name is "Shul", not "Schul".
For you fighter pilots, he's the one that back in the 80's wrote the fighter pilot rules (or something like that) that said "you deal with the enemy with a knee on his chest and a knife to his throat", as well as a bunch of other great quotes. A great photographer too.
 

Fox-Tree

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Brian's last name is "Shul", not "Schul".
For you fighter pilots, he's the one that back in the 80's wrote the fighter pilot rules (or something like that) that said "you deal with the enemy with a knee on his chest and a knife to his throat", as well as a bunch of other great quotes. A great photographer too.

Quote from a Brian Shul post 9-11 speech:
"In every fighter squadron I was in, there was a saying that we knew to be true, that said, when there was a true enemy, you negotiate with that enemy with your knee in his chest and your knife at his throat."
 

hawkerjet

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I used to fly a twin cessna from LGB to MMH Thursday's through Sundays a while back and every once in a while the guys from Lemoore would be running up and down the Owens Valley. I would tell Center that it was ok for them to use my aircraft for ID practice and one by one the F 18's would fly up to our side wave to our passengers then disappear. I'm getting a pretty good feeling just remembering. It was a very memorable experience seeing a fighter jet up close and personal. It was something very few civvy pilots get to experience and I was grateful to have had the experience.
 

flyburg

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Just a quick and possible dumb question:

was the SR71 allowed to fly above the speed of sound above land and if so, woulnd't that make for a lot of noise ( sonic boom) over a large area. I guess there are some ranges where you can do that over land but that thing would cover entire states in a matter of minutes.

Thanks
 

Huggyu2

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Yes, they were allowed to. I don't know the restrictions, if any, but I'll ask. I've heard the Sled's boom from above 70,000 feet, and it's pretty mild.
Back in the 90's, on T-38 student sorties, we had to be above 30,000 and inside the MOA (ATCCA, actually) when we went supersonic.
 

rickair7777

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Just a quick and possible dumb question:

was the SR71 allowed to fly above the speed of sound above land and if so, woulnd't that make for a lot of noise ( sonic boom) over a large area. I guess there are some ranges where you can do that over land but that thing would cover entire states in a matter of minutes.

Thanks

The military can fly as fast as it wants to, as long as it is willing to deal with the political fallout. For that reason they self-regulate and try to keep the booms confined to areas and altitudes where they won't bother anyone. In fact none of the FAR's apply to the DoD unless they voluntarily comply (ex. IFR procedures).
 

Dizel8

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Huh?
Did the Blackbird have VHF radios?
 

AlbieF15

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The military can fly as fast as it wants to, as long as it is willing to deal with the political fallout. For that reason they self-regulate and try to keep the booms confined to areas and altitudes where they won't bother anyone. In fact none of the FAR's apply to the DoD unless they voluntarily comply (ex. IFR procedures).

Not entirely true. We can fly faster/slower, or as required--with waivers. For instance, F-15s and F-16s routinely go out to the airspace at 350, and back at 300. Our fuel economy and aircraft handling are optimized at those speeds, so they are waived.

That DOES NOT give an F-15 driver the ability to rage over your house at 450 for the fun of it. All FARs apply except those waivered, which must go through a DoD approval process.

I think you'll find most of the military leadership has worked hard to instill the discipline to follow the rules. A better way to put it is not only do military pilots have to conform to FAA rules, but to our military rules and regs as well.
 

Huggyu2

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I've got a friend who was an SR-71 pilot, and he said "no" on the VHF radio.
As for supersonic flight, during the mid-90s, when they tried to bring the Sled back, he says they had 8 canned routes they could fly that didn't generate new noise complaints. They rotated them, based on weather, and to minimize the impact of their "boom". He said the mission planners used a 75nm turn radius template to wind around the areas that they were required to avoid (large cities, mainly).
 

Air 1

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I've got a friend who was an SR-71 pilot, and he said "no" on the VHF radio.
As for supersonic flight, during the mid-90s, when they tried to bring the Sled back, he says they had 8 canned routes they could fly that didn't generate new noise complaints. They rotated them, based on weather, and to minimize the impact of their "boom". He said the mission planners used a 75nm turn radius template to wind around the areas that they were required to avoid (large cities, mainly).


Must have the same type of airspace around here. At least twice a week, you can hear a sonic boom or two here in SE Tennessee. It comes in waves. One week it could be everyday and even twice a day on a few occasions. I did some research and it showed that there is a corridor that runs through here where they test the F-22 out of Marietta after it gets off the assembly line. At least thats what the 2 our 3 pretty reliable sources on the net said. After the boom, you can look up and see 2 contrails and sometimes looks like they are maneuvering around. Pretty neat to see, but sure does scare the s*** out of you!
 

Kuma

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So, with no VHF radio, the next question that Dizel8 will ask is how did the radio calls between center, the Cessna pilot, the twin Beech, the F-18, and the sled transpire? There must be more to the story.
 

Say Again Over

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I was on my way to Central America and over heard a military call sign checking in with CENAMER Control, checked in at Angels 600 or something and sounded like he was forcing his voice through an oxygen mask? This was on VHF.
 

Huggyu2

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So, with no VHF radio, the next question that Dizel8 will ask is how did the radio calls between center, the Cessna pilot, the twin Beech, the F-18, and the sled transpire? There must be more to the story.
Remember, only 10% of a good story has to be true.
 

Dizel8

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Huh?
So, with no VHF radio, the next question that Dizel8 will ask is how did the radio calls between center, the Cessna pilot, the twin Beech, the F-18, and the sled transpire? There must be more to the story.

I always thought it seemed like a fair question!
 

Gorilla

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I was on my way to Central America and over heard a military call sign checking in with CENAMER Control, checked in at Angels 600 or something and sounded like he was forcing his voice through an oxygen mask? This was on VHF.

I've encountered that aircraft too over the Carib. I'm 98% certain it is one of NASA's B-57 WX research ships. In the hurricane season especially, they poke around over developing storms at FL600. Pretty interesting to hear them check in at those altitudes.

http://www.nasa.gov/missions/research/b-57_feature.html
 

AA717driver

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Cool, knew nothing about it.

That's because it USED to be a secret. Thanks, Gorilla... ;) TC

P.S.--Even though the Sr-71 didn't have VHF, the controller's response would have still been broadcast over both VHF and UHF. There, story integrity restored. :D
 

Say Again Over

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Ya right, TOP SECRET weather airplane, sounds like they have their cover story down.
 

Dizel8

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Huh?
P.S.--Even though the Sr-71 didn't have VHF, the controller's response would have still been broadcast over both VHF and UHF. There, story integrity restored. :D


"We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed. "


Ehhh, beavis??

Just yanking your chain:)
 
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