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SR-71, The Blackbird

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SR-71, The Blackbird

Old 21st Jul 2003, 17:59
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Question SR-71 Blackbird

Can anyone recommend a book that describes the design and engineering of the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance a/c?

I've examined the U-2 and the Concorde wrt operational details at FL 700, and I would like to include the SR-71 in my study. Thanks.
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Old 21st Jul 2003, 18:37
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I don't think you'll be disappointed with

Lockheed SR-71 - The Secret Missions Exposed
Paul F. Crickmore
Osprey Publishing
ISBN 1-85532-681-7.

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Old 22nd Jul 2003, 03:39
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Or the SR71 Pilots Manual ISBN 0-87938-658-4

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Old 1st Aug 2003, 21:00
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Question SR-71: Rock Switching Hands

In "The Black Watch: The Men Who Fly America's Secret Spy Planes", Ernest Gann writes (p 18):

Away with the old sextant and chronometer; the same stars that once guided the ancients now tell the Reconnaissance Systems Operators [SR-71 backseaters] to put the rock in his other hand. North is that way."
What is meant by "put the rock in his other hand"?
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Old 1st Aug 2003, 21:11
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Keep banging the rocks together, guys. I think its a reference to the evolutionary process.
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Old 11th Dec 2007, 12:02
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Lightbulb SR-71 Blackbird Tales.

Hello All,

I recieved the following via email and I found it fascinating, certainly very entertaining reading.

I have not been able to verify it and it has not been edited by myself, save for the removal of those blurry >>> 'forwarding' symbols.

My idea is to share it with my fellow PPRuNers for enjoyment and comment, perhaps people might like to contribute further Blackbird stories or experiences.

If the story breaches any copyright, please PM me the details and if Col. Wilson is a fellow PPRuNer I'd welcome his comments.

Here is the body of the email for your enjoyment:
Subject: Previously Top Secret Story; Blackbird Mission Over Israel's Live Battle Fields!

Egypt and Syria opened an offensive against Israel, in late '73, by launching a coordinated series of air, armoured and artillery attacks into the Sinai and Golan Heights.

The pre-emptive strike came as a result of a diplomatic failure to resolve territorial disputes. Egypt's Sadat was convinced he had to initiate a war with limited objectives.

Along the Suez Canal, 80 000 well-equipped Egyptian soldiers crossed the Suez and attacked fewer than 500 Israeli defenders. In the Golan Heights, fewer than 200 Israeli tanks were attacked by 1 400 Syrian tanks. Initial Israeli military losses were significant. And their response included urgent requests for assistance from the USA.

At that time, our military reconnaissance space satellites didn't have the capability to provide the intelligence needed to sufficiently assess the situation. So, we were alerted to prepare to fly SR-71 missions over the area of conflict, then recover in England.

The mission was within the design capabilities of the Blackbird, although such a long and logistically-difficult mission had never previously been accomplished.

Within the first few days of the conflict, the supporting Arab nations began an oil embargo, making oil a weapon of war. This contributed to a decision by the British to deny any Blackbird mission recovery in Great Britain.

A Plan B was rapidly drawn up to fly the SR-71 out of upstate New York, and return to recover at Seymour-Johnson, North Carolina.

These newly planned 12 000 mile missions would require (5) five air to air refuellings from (16) sixteen KC-135 tankers based in Spain.

In the utmost secrecy, we mobilized and deployed. A few days later, our first photo/electronic reconnaissance mission was over Israel was

I was a fairly young pilot in the squadron, with only 120 hours of SR-71 time under my belt. I was assigned to fly a backup SR-71 and to stay on alert at Griffiss AFB, New York, and to be prepared to fly follow-on missions.

Then, I served as back-up alert on two more successful missions.

Then it was my turn.

The excitement level was high. And I certainly wanted to be part of another success. Takeoff was at 2 o'clock on a dark but clear night with about fifteen inches of snow on the ground. It was peacefully calm.

Until I lit both of the 34 000 lb. thrust afterburners for take-off, B-O-O-M! B-O-O-M!

The first 450 miles had to be flown subsonic at .9 Mach, since we had to clear the commercial airliner tracks off the East Coast before I could safely re-fuel.

Most pilots don't know the true meaning of DARK.

You might compare it to refuelling inside an inkwell. With absolute radio silence, in the inkwell darkness of the North Atlantic night, I entered an electronic rendezvous with three tankers, taking on 3 500 gallons of fuel from each.

After completing post-refuelling checks, I lit the afterburners and started my acceleration to a leisurely Mach 3 cruise across the Atlantic. The airplane performed flawlessly, thanks to the extra special effort by the maintenance guys.

About 2 000 miles across the Atlantic, I watched with excitement as the sun came up right in front of my eyes giving an incredible view all around.

The next refuelling was a couple hundred miles north of the Azores, where I took on another 5 000 gallons each from two refuellers.

I started my second acceleration and headed for Gibraltar. At 80 000 feet, cruising through the centre of the narrow straits with hundreds of miles of visibility on both sides it was more than spectacular.

Then I proceeded down the middle of the Mediterranean toward Israel where the weather was becoming significantly worse than the forecast.

Although done in unexpectedly tough weather conditions, the third air refuelling south of Crete, went along as scheduled.

Now packing in a full load of 80 000 lbs of JP-7 fuel, I lit the afterburners and started the acceleration toward the target area. When reaching MAX fuel flow in FULL afterburner, a RED engine oil quantity low light came on steady red.

In almost unbelief I stared at it momentarily then quickly scanned the attendant oil pressure RPM exhaust gas temperature and nozzle position. There were no confirming indications of trouble. But I could not just ignore the red light and fly into a live combat zone while facing possible engine failure.

There were no viable emergency airfields that could handle the SR-71. And I certainly did not want to be a no-notice, no-flight plan single engine emergency arrival at Tel Aviv's David Ben Gurion airport. Especially since the Israeli government had not been informed of our mission. On the other hand, they needed to focus their entire attention on their survival.

So I took the engines out of afterburner to access the situation to consider the best course of action. Then I had a pleasant surprise. After coming out of afterburner the red warning light blinked out! I became [fairly-well] convinced that it had been a false indication. On the other hand, the red light threat had subtracted 400 gallons of critically needed fuel.

My tankers were now 80 miles behind me. Moving further away each second.
Rejoining them to in order to top off fuel, would present a whole new set of problems [I won't get into.] So I re-lit the afterburners.

And pressed on.

I had another long five (5) second illumination of the red light during the acceleration.

Then it went out.

Stayed out.

My flight track went down the Suez Canal past Cairo, where I made a Mach 3.15 left turn to cross the combat lines in the Sinai. With the Blackbird's panoramic and specific point cameras capturing key details of hundreds of targets, I flew across the Dead Sea and Golan Heights.

Approaching Lebanon, I made a sweeping right turn out over Syria then turned back for a run over the Sinai on a parallel path to gain maximum coverage. The airplane was running well. I pushed it up a bit to Mach 3.2 before exiting Egypt near Port Said.

Once out over the Mediterranean, I started a descent to 25 000 feet to hit my fourth set of tankers. But as fate would have it, not only was I low on fuel due to the red light, but a thunderstorm had thrust itself up into the location of our refuelling area. Intent on carrying out their indispensable mission, the tankers flew into the brewing storm.

Now in the scud ourselves, trusting our internal electronic azimuth and distance measuring equipment, my backseater got us to less than a mile behind a tanker. At this point, the visibility was so poor that the tanker was not visible.

In turbulence and thick cloud, very low on fuel, I eased up on the unseen KC-135 tanker. My backseater called out, "One-half mile" "Now it's a thousand feet."

Across a momentary valley in the clouds, I saw the tanker straight ahead. With less than 15 minutes of fuel remaining we hooked up. Whew! [might have been able to finesse it in. Or dead stick it? - NOT! In any case, the SR-71 definitely was not a good airplane in that scenario]

100 miles away, the island of Crete had the closest emergency runway.

Needless to say, I was very thankful to my tanker buddies, backseater, and good equipment for that rendezvous.

What a relief!

It gave me an entirely new meaning for 'finding a gas station' when I really needed one. We completed a fifth 10 000 gallon air refuelling near the Azores before we truly enjoyed the leisurely Mach 3 flight back across the Atlantic to our recovery at Seymour Johnson.

Within 20 minutes, our excellent people had the photo and electronic intelligence information down-loaded, then placed safely onboard a dedicated Air Force courier aircraft to a Photo Interpretation Centre in D.C.

Including 6 hours 41 minutes of supersonic speed, the round-trip flight covered a bit more than 12 000 miles in 10 hours 49 minutes. After landing at Seymour Johnson, I remember wondering what Lindbergh would have thought about the amazing advancements in aviation technology.

These missions were not declassified until the early 1990's when the SR-71 program was closed at the end of the Cold War. Most of the remaining birds are now in various museums.

The one I flew is the centrepiece at SAC's Air and Space museum near Omaha.

Jim Wilson

Colonel USAF (Ret.)
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Old 11th Dec 2007, 13:59
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but a thunderstorm had thrust itself up into the location of our refuelling area. Intent on carrying out their indispensable mission, the tankers flew into the brewing storm
If that's anything to go by, then he knows his stuff
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Old 11th Dec 2007, 16:02
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What a great read ABX, thanks for sharing.
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Old 11th Dec 2007, 20:13
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Most pilots don't know the true meaning of DARK
Most haven't been to Belize!

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Old 12th Dec 2007, 00:52
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That was the section that had me thinking. I thought a KC-135 (or any tanker) would keep well away from a brewing T-cell.

I imagine that a loaded tanker would normally stay well clear of storms, brewing or not?

Any thoughts from those who have been and seen would be appreciated.

Feel free to post SR-71 stories here, they make for fascinating reading.


Last edited by ABX; 12th Dec 2007 at 04:48. Reason: 1
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Old 12th Dec 2007, 02:46
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You are spot on in your thoughts.

However, it has been known, for the odd tanker in the heat of the moment, to not want to change levels / tracks / routing for fear of complicating the rendezous or because it's just too much hassle or they lack the confidence to make such bold decisions in the vinegar strokes, despite it ultimately being a more sucessful AR because of it. My opinion of sucess is a safe join, an efficient offload and smooth breakup. Being on the planned route, no matter the costs / weather is not important.

US tankers much more so than UK one's I hasten to add. "Black-line-itis" can be a compelling infliction......

(Not all tanker pilots sit in the weather. But some have, some do and some always will.. )
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Old 12th Dec 2007, 03:48
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SR-71 Disintegrates Around Pilot During Flight Test

From Aviation Week & Space Technology

By Bill Weaver

Among professional aviators, there's a well-worn saying: Flying is
simply hours of boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror. And
yet, I don't recall too many periods of boredom during my 30-year
career with Lockheed, most of which was spent as a test pilot.

By far, the most memorable flight occurred on Jan. 25, 1966. Jim
Zwayer, a Lockheed flight test reconnaissance and navigation systems
specialist, and I were evaluating those systems on an SR-71 Blackbird
test from Edwards AFB, Calif. We also were investigating procedures
designed to reduce trim drag and improve high-Mach cruise
performance. The latter involved flying with the center-of-gravity
(CG) located further aft than normal, which reduced the Blackbird's
longitudinal stability.

We took off from Edwards at 11:20 a.m. and completed the mission's
first leg without incident. After refueling from a KC-135 tanker, we
turned eastbound, accelerated to a Mach 3.2-cruise speed and climbed
to 78,000 ft., our initial cruise-climb altitude.

Several minutes into cruise, the right engine inlet's automatic
control system malfunctioned, requiring a switch to manual control.
The SR-71's inlet configuration was automatically adjusted during
supersonic flight to decelerate air flow in the duct, slowing it to
subsonic speed before reaching the engine's face. This was
accomplished by the inlet's center-body spike translating aft, and by
modulating the inlet's forward bypass doors. Normally, these actions
were scheduled automatically as a function of Mach number,
positioning the normal shock wave (where air flow becomes subsonic)
inside the inlet to ensure optimum engine performance.

Without proper scheduling, disturbances inside the inlet could result
in the shock wave being expelled forward--a phenomenon known as an
"inlet unstart." That causes an instantaneous loss of engine thrust,
explosive banging noises and violent yawing of the aircraft--like
being in a train wreck. Unstarts were not uncommon at that time in
the SR-71's development, but a properly functioning system would
recapture the shock wave and restore normal operation.

On the planned test profile, we entered a programmed 35-deg. bank
turn to the right. An immediate unstart occurred on the right engine,
forcing the aircraft to roll further right and start to pitch up. I
jammed the control stick as far left and forward as it would go. No
response. I instantly knew we were in for a wild ride.

I attempted to tell Jim what was happening and to stay with the
airplane until we reached a lower speed and altitude. I didn't think
the chances of surviving an ejection at Mach 3.18 and 78,800 ft. were
very good. However, g-forces built up so rapidly that my words came
out garbled and unintelligible, as confirmed later by the cockpit
voice recorder.

The cumulative effects of system malfunctions, reduced longitudinal
stability, increased angle-of-attack in the turn, supersonic speed,
high altitude and other factors imposed forces on the airframe that
exceeded flight control authority and the Stability Augmentation
System's ability to restore control.

Everything seemed to unfold in slow motion. I learned later the time
from event onset to catastrophic departure from controlled flight was
only 2-3 sec. Still trying to communicate with Jim, I blacked out,
succumbing to extremely high g-forces. The SR-71 then literally
disintegrated around us.

From that point, I was just along for the ride.

My next recollection was a hazy thought that I was having a bad
dream. Maybe I'll wake up and get out of this mess, I mused.
Gradually regaining consciousness, I realized this was no dream; it
had really happened. That also was disturbing, because I could not
have survived what had just happened. Therefore, I must be dead.
Since I didn't feel bad--just a detached sense of euphoria--I decided
being dead wasn't so bad after all.

AS FULL AWARENESS took hold, I realized I was not dead, but had
somehow separated from the airplane. I had no idea how this could
have happened; I hadn't initiated an ejection. The sound of rushing
air and what sounded like straps flapping in the wind confirmed I was
falling, but I couldn't see anything. My pressure suit's face plate
had frozen over and I was staring at a layer of ice.

The pressure suit was inflated, so I knew an emergency oxygen
cylinder in the seat kit attached to my parachute harness was
functioning. It not only supplied breathing oxygen, but also
pressurized the suit, preventing my blood from boiling at extremely
high altitudes. I didn't appreciate it at the time, but the suit's
pressurization had also provided physical protection from intense
buffeting and g-forces. That inflated suit had become my own escape

My next concern was about stability and tumbling. Air density at high
altitude is insufficient to resist a body's tumbling motions, and
centrifugal forces high enough to cause physical injury could develop
quickly. For that reason, the SR-71's parachute system was designed
to automatically deploy a small-diameter stabilizing chute shortly
after ejection and seat separation. Since I had not intentionally
activated the ejection system--and assuming all automatic functions
depended on a proper ejection sequence--it occurred to me the
stabilizing chute may not have deployed.

However, I quickly determined I was falling vertically and not
tumbling. The little chute must have deployed and was doing its job.
Next concern: the main parachute, which was designed to open
automatically at 15,000 ft. Again, I had no assurance the
automatic-opening function would work.

I couldn't ascertain my altitude because I still couldn't see through
the iced-up face plate. There was no way to know how long I had been
blacked-out, or how far I had fallen. I felt for the
manual-activation D-ring on my chute harness, but with the suit
inflated and my hands numbed by cold, I couldn't locate it. I decided
I'd better open the face plate, try to estimate my height above the
ground, then locate that "D" ring. Just as I reached for the face
plate, I felt the reassuring sudden deceleration of main-chute

I raised the frozen face plate and discovered its uplatch was broken.
Using one hand to hold that plate up, I saw I was descending through
a clear, winter sky with unlimited visibility. I was greatly relieved
to see Jim's parachute coming down about a quarter of a mile away. I
didn't think either of us could have survived the aircraft's breakup,
so seeing Jim had also escaped lifted my spirits incredibly.

I could also see burning wreckage on the ground a few miles from
where we would land. The terrain didn't look at all inviting--a
desolate, high plateau dotted with patches of snow and no signs of

I tried to rotate the parachute and look in other directions. But
with one hand devoted to keeping the face plate up and both hands
numb from high-altitude, subfreezing temperatures, I couldn't
manipulate the risers enough to turn. Before the breakup, we'd
started a turn in the New Mexico-Colorado-Oklahoma-Texas border
region. The SR-71 had a turning radius of about 100 mi. at that speed
and altitude, so I wasn't even sure what state we were going to land
in. But, because it was about 3:00 p.m., I was certain we would be
spending the night out here.

At about 300 ft. above the ground, I yanked the seat kit's release
handle and made sure it was still tied to me by a long lanyard.
Releasing the hea vy kit ensured I wouldn't land with it attached to
my derriere, which could break a leg or cause other injuries. I then
tried to recall what survival items were in that kit, as well as
techniques I had been taught in survival training.

Looking down, I was startled to see a fairly large animal--perhaps an
antelope--directly under me. Evidently, it was just as startled as I
was because it literally took off in a cloud of dust.

My first-ever parachute landing was pretty smooth. I landed on fairly
soft ground, managing to avoid rocks, cacti and antelopes. My chute
was still billowing in the wind, though. I struggled to collapse it
with one hand, holding the still-frozen face plate up with the other.

"Can I help you?" a voice said.

Was I hearing things? I must be hallucinating. Then I looked up and
saw a guy walking toward me, wearing a cowboy hat. A helicopter was
idling a short distance behind him. If I had been at Edwards and told
the search-and-rescue unit that I was going to bail out over the
Rogers Dry Lake at a particular time of day, a crew couldn't have
gotten to me as fast as that cowboy-pilot had.

The gentleman was Albert Mitchell, Jr., owner of a huge cattle ranch
in northeastern New Mexico. I had landed about 1.5 mi. from his ranch
house--and from a hangar for his two-place Hughes helicopter. Amazed
to see him, I replied I was having a little trouble with my chute. He
walked over and collapsed the canopy, anchoring it with several
rocks. He had seen Jim and me floating down and had radioed the New
Mexico Highway Patrol, the Air Force and the nearest hospital.

Extracting myself from the parachute harness, I discovered the source
of those flapping-strap noises heard on the way down. My seat belt
and shoulder harness were still draped around me, attached and
latched. The lap belt had been shredded on each side of my hips,
where the straps had fed through knurled adjustment rollers. The
shoulder harness had shredded in a similar manner across my back. The
ejection seat had never left the airplane; I had been ripped out of
it by the extreme forces, seat belt and shoulder harness still

I also noted that one of the two lines that supplied oxygen to my
pressure suit had come loose, and the other was barely hanging on. If
that second line had become detached at high altitude, the deflated
pressure suit wouldn't have provided any protection. I knew an oxygen
supply was critical for breathing and suit-pressurization, but didn't
appreciate how much physical protection an inflated pressure suit
could provide. That the suit could withstand forces sufficient to
disintegrate an airplane and shred heavy nylon seat belts, yet leave
me with only a few bruises and minor whiplash was impressive. I truly
appreciated having my own little escape capsule.

After helping me with the chute, Mitchell said he'd check on Jim. He
climbed into his helicopter, flew a short distance away and returned
about 10 min. later with devastating news: Jim was dead. Apparently,
he had suffered a broken neck during the aircraft's disintegration
and was killed instantly. Mitchell said his ranch foreman would soon
arrive to watch over Jim's body until the authorities arrived.

I asked to see Jim and, after verifying there was nothing more that
could be done, agreed to let Mitchell fly me to the Tucumcari
hospital, about 60 mi. to the south.

I have vivid memories of that helicopter flight, as well. I didn't
know much about rotorcraft, but I knew a lot about "red lines," and
Mitchell kept the airspeed at or above red line all the way. The
little helicopter vibrated and shook a lot more than I thought it
should have. I tried to reassure the cowboy-pilot I was feeling OK;
there was no need to rush. But since he'd notified the hospital staff
that we were inbound, he insisted we get there as soon as possible. I
couldn't help but think how ironic it would be to have survived one
disaster only to be done in by the helicopter that had come to my

However, we made it to the hospital safely--and quickly. Soon, I was
able to contact Lockheed's flight test office at Edwards. The test
team there had been notified initially about the loss of radio and
radar contact, then told the aircraft had been lost. They also knew
what our flight conditions had been at the time, and assumed no one
could have survived. I briefly explained what had happened,
describing in fairly accurate detail the flight conditions prior to

The next day, our flight profile was duplicated on the SR-71 flight
simulator at Beale AFB, Calif. The outcome was identical. Steps were
immediately taken to prevent a recurrence of our accident. Testing at
a CG aft of normal limits was discontinued, and trim-drag issues were
subsequently resolved via aerodynamic means. The inlet control system
was continuously improved and, with subsequent development of the
Digital Automatic Flight and Inlet Control System, inlet unstarts
became rare.

Investigation of our accident revealed that the nose section of the
aircraft had broken off aft of the rear cockpit and crashed about 10
mi. from the main wreckage. Parts were scattered over an area
approximately 15 mi. long and 10 mi. wide. Extremely high air loads
and g-forces, both positive and negative, had literally ripped Jim
and me from the airplane. Unbelievably good luck is the only
explanation for my escaping relatively unscathed from that
disintegrating aircraft

Two weeks after the accident, I was back in an SR-71, flying the
first sortie on a brand-new bird at Lockheed's Palmdale, Calif.,
assembly and test facility. It was my first flight since the
accident, so a flight test engineer in the back seat was probably a
little apprehensive about my state of mind and confidence. As we
roared down the runway and lifted off, I heard an anxious voice over
the intercom.

"Bill! Bill! Are you there?"

"Yeah, George. What's the matter?"

"Thank God! I thought you might have left." The rear cockpit of the
SR-71 has no forward visibility--only a small window on each
side--and George couldn't see me. A big red light on the
master-warning panel in the rear cockpit had illuminated just as we
rotated, stating, "Pilot Ejected." Fortunately, the cause was a
misadjusted microswitch, not my departure.

Bill Weaver flight tested all models of the Mach-2 F-104 Starfighter
and the entire family of Mach 3+ Blackbirds--the A-12, YF-12 and
SR-71. He subsequently was assigned to Lockheed's L-1011 project as
an engineering test pilot, became the company's chief pilot and
retired as Division Manager of Commercial Flying Operations. He still
flies Orbital Sciences Corp.'s L-1011, which has been modified to
carry a Pegasus satellite-launch vehicle (AW&ST Aug. 25, 2003, p.
56). An FAA Designated Engineering Representative Flight Test Pilot,
he's also involved in various aircraft-modification projects,
conducting certification flight tests.
Old 12th Dec 2007, 05:05
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That's the stuff!

Sexual Chocolate, that is a great story, Bill was incredibly lucky to have survived.

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Old 12th Dec 2007, 08:14
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If you look at a map you will see that the Crete-Libyia gap is less than 200 miles wide. At 250 the tankers would have been vulnerable had they flown south of the FIR boundary and probably upset the Greeks if they flew to the north.

I would guess the black line was the FIR boundary.

Although the airspace between the territorial limit and the FIR boundary was 'open FIR' and not under national control the Greeks did not see it that way - much as we police NATO airspace around UK the Greeks policed their FIR.

Unless we had formal diplomatic clearance we often had to transit on the FIR boundary.
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Old 12th Dec 2007, 08:16
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At the IAT (it wasn't Royal then) at Greenham in 83, the peace sla'aaaags threw paint over one of them. When it finally left, having been wiped over with turps, it did a low pass over the camp and did away with some of their 'benders'.

Wouldn't happen now I imagine..
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Old 12th Dec 2007, 15:59
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Originally Posted by FLCH View Post
I'm not a military pilot but have flown with lots of them, my question is how did all that JP-7 get to Spain ? Do other types of aircraft fly on JP-7 ?
Tankers were transferred from Mildenhall / Incirlik to Zaragoza. A certain Mr Heath didn't want to upset the Arabs.

ABX, if you're interested, a load of A-12 / Blackshield stuff was declassified earlier this year. Some interesting reading: A-12 Docs

Imagine seeing SA-2's flying alongside you. Analysis of SAM engagements
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Old 12th Dec 2007, 19:12
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If anyone wants to tell Santa, here's what I'd like:


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Old 12th Dec 2007, 20:42
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Great book Max. He is a photo nut and has some wonderful snaps. You're not getting mine tho.
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Old 13th Dec 2007, 06:46
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1968 CIA photo of Airfield in NK

2007 Google map
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Old 13th Dec 2007, 09:16
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Max Shutterspeed - and anybody else who is interested ...

I have a copy of Brian Shul's Sled Driver on eBay at this time. Just go to ebay.co.uk and type in Sled Driver.

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