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LA Speed Story, World’s Fastest Aircraft Hitting Mach 3

Speed Check!!!

This may be the single greatest aviation story ever told, it’s about the iconic SR-71 Blackbird whose full operating specs are still classified to this day. The story, from the now out-of-print book Sled Driver by former SR-71 jockey Brian Shul (available used on Amazon for just $700). Here’s the ultimate aviation troll:

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.

Speed Check!!!

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 Walter 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.

Speed Check!!!

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.”

(Article continutes after video)

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 ground speed. “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.”

Blackbird pilot funny story

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 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.

Billionaire Paul Allen’s private spaceflight company Stratolaunch…

has just unveiled the world’s biggest airplane: a massive carrier plane with a wingspan longer than an entire football field.

Top Gun 2 Two

The colossal Stratolaunch carrier plane rolled out of its hangar at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, today (May 31) to undergo fueling tests. It’s the first public look at the full craft – which is designed to launch rockets into orbit from the sky – since construction began.

“We’re excited to announce that Stratolaunch aircraft has reached a major milestone in its journey toward providing convenient, reliable, and routine access to low-Earth orbit,”

Microsoft’s co-founder jumps into the billionaire space race with a plane to launch rockets. It’s not just ego: There’s a lucrative new industry up there.

Billionaire Paul Allens private spaceflight company Stratolaunch

Stratolaunch Systems Corp. CEO Jean Floyd said in a statement. “This marks the completion of the initial aircraft-construction phase and the beginning of the aircraft ground- and flight-testing phase.”

The Stratolaunch carrier plane is designed to launch rockets into orbit from an altitude of 30,000 feet (9,100 meters).

Initially, the plane will carry a single Pegasus XL rocket built by Orbital ATK, but the craft will eventually be able to carry up to three of those boosters simultaneously, Floyd said. Stratolaunch Systems has been quietly designing and building the rocket-toting plane over the last few years.

“Over the past few weeks, we have removed the fabrication infrastructure, including the three-story scaffolding surrounding the aircraft, and rested the aircraft’s full weight on its 28 wheels for the first time,” Floyd said. “This was a crucial step in preparing the aircraft for ground testing, engine runs, taxi tests and, ultimately, first flight.”

Allen founded Stratolaunch Systems in 2011 with the goal of making access to low-Earth orbit “more convenient, reliable and routine,” according to the company’s tagline. Allen teamed up with Scaled Composites, a Mojave-based aerospace company founded by Burt Rutan, to build the Stratolaunch carrier plane. Allen bankrolled Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne space plane, which went on to win the $20 million Ansari X Prize for private reusable crewed spacecraft. Stratolaunch’s launch profile resembles that of SpaceShipOne, which was carried to launch altitude by its own mothership, called the WhiteKnight. The Stratolaunch plane is a twin-boom aircraft with a wingspan of 385 feet (117 m), a length of 238 feet (72 m) and a tail height of 50 feet (15 m). The massive plane weighs 550,000 lbs. (250,000 kilograms) by itself and a mind-boggling 1.3 million lbs. (590,000 kg) when fully loaded with a rocket payload. It takes six Pratt & Whitney PW4056 jet engines to power the monster jet.

The Stratolaunch carrier aircraft's 385 feet (117 metres) wingspan compares to 320 feet for H-4 Hercules and 225 feet for Boeing 747-8

“Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be actively conducting ground and flight-line testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port,” Floyd said. “This is a first-of-its-kind aircraft, so we’re going to be diligent throughout testing and continue to prioritize the safety of our pilots, crew and staff. Stratolaunch is on track to perform…”

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404 thoughts on “LA Speed Story, World’s Fastest Aircraft Hitting Mach 3

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