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Intercepting an SR-71
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PapaJoe



Joined: 09 Nov 2020
Posts: 52
Location: Massachusetts USA

PostPosted: Sat Mar 13, 2021 2:56 pm    Post subject: Intercepting an SR-71 Reply with quote

When Kelly Johnson and his Skunk Works team designed the SR-71, they had one goal in mind . . . speed. That singular focus produced an incredible machine capable of extremely high altitude, high mach performance. But, I have to say, some of the SR-71's top speed estimates talked about in fighter pilot circles made me wince, and turned me into a Doubting Thomas. That is, until I had the opportunity to intercept one.

One morning many years ago, my F-106 squadron's training officer briefed us that an SR-71 was scheduled to overfly our training airspace at very high altitude and mach during the morning training mission. A few lucky pilots, including me, were tasked with intercepting it and attempting to fire simulated air-to-air missiles at the beast as it streaked past, a rare opportunity requiring careful planning and precise tactical execution.

Once strapped in and airborne, I settled into mentally reviewing the intercept sequence. Things would happen fast. Just then, my controller on the ground announced the Blackbird's rapid approach. I lit the afterburner and yanked my interceptor around to face the threat. With both my jet and the SR-71 going so fast, the controller called out a closure rate much higher than I'd ever experienced. In fact, the Blackbird was coming at me so quickly, the radar initially refused to lock onto him. After a couple of attempts, I achieved a radar lock and confirmed closure rate so high, it pegged the overtake readout on the radar scope.

At that point, I pulled the nose up to pull lead on the target. (Remember, we're head-to-head, so I want my missiles to deploy out in front of his nose.) As the system counted down to missile-launch, the nose-up attitude required to achieve a successful shot was straight up, and airspeed dropped rapidly. I felt the missile-bay doors open and the missile rails lower. Then, at the point real missiles would deploy, I caught a glimpse of the SR-71 streaking past overhead at an amazing speed. I don't think any air-to-air missiles could have caught up with him. Was my shot a success? I doubt it.

With little airspeed and my jet pointed straight up, I let the nose drop to near vertical and watched the machine accelerate back to flying speed. After landing, my fellow jocks and I compared notes on the morning's work. We agreed the SR-71 had most likely survived his flyover of our airspace. How fast was he going? I can't say. But I can say this. After flying that intercept, I'm a believer.
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Miken



Joined: 24 Dec 2012
Posts: 398

PostPosted: Sat Mar 13, 2021 7:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Joe,
When you are flying at those very high speeds, in the event of an emergency, is it practical to eject (and survive)?
Mike
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Penman



Joined: 23 Nov 2007
Posts: 4346
Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Sat Mar 13, 2021 7:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi
From the Ejection Seat wiki entry.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ejection_seat#:~:text=The%20highest%20altitude%20at%20which,80%2C000%20ft%20(24%2C000%20m).

Quote:
In the early 1960s, deployment of rocket-powered ejection seats designed for use at supersonic speeds began in such planes as the Convair F-106 Delta Dart. Six pilots have ejected at speeds exceeding 700 knots (1,300 km/h; 810 mph). The highest altitude at which a Martin-Baker seat was deployed was 57,000 ft (17,400 m) (from a Canberra bomber in 1958). Following an accident on 30 July 1966 in the attempted launch of a D-21 drone, two Lockheed M-21 crew members ejected at Mach 3.25 at an altitude of 80,000 ft (24,000 m). The pilot was recovered successfully, but the launch control officer drowned after a water landing. Despite these records, most ejections occur at fairly low speeds and altitudes, when the pilot can see that there is no hope of regaining aircraft control before impact with the ground.

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PapaJoe



Joined: 09 Nov 2020
Posts: 52
Location: Massachusetts USA

PostPosted: Sat Mar 13, 2021 8:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Miken, Ejection seats work best below supersonic speeds. Ideally, you'd like to punch out at 450 knots or less to avoid the flailing injuries associated with ejecting at higher speeds. In a controlled situation, you'd slow the aircraft to around 250 knots before pulling the handles.

At one point in the service life of the F-106, there was a system called the B-Seat retrofitted into the airplane which was designed for ejecting at supersonic speeds. It was not a reliable system and pilots were reluctant to use it. By the time I started flying the airplane, we had a Weber seat which was very reliable, but designed for subsonic ejection.

Regards,
Joe
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Rick
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Joined: 27 Apr 2005
Posts: 21855
Location: UK

PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2021 7:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great stories once again PapaJoe.

Dad was saying that if you were over here, he'd be persuading you to give a talk at the air museum he's involved with!

RJ
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Penman



Joined: 23 Nov 2007
Posts: 4346
Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2021 10:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi
Rick wrote:
Great stories once again PapaJoe.

Dad was saying that if you were over here, he'd be persuading you to give a talk at the air museum he's involved with!

RJ


I don't know if times have changed but the older generation of flyers, with a few exceptions such as Winkle Brown etc., seemed reluctant to talk about their experiences.
Back in the '60s I was taught to fly by Harry "Bruin" Purvis, I knew he had recently retired from Boscombe Down, but it was a few years later when I read his obituary in Flight that I found out he had done the test flights on the degaussing Wellington (that might be the wrong word, I mean the ones with the giant doughnut ring underneath which was used to explode magnetic mines) and also the Grand Slam fitted Lancaster.
He had also done some early deck landings as an RAF pilot.
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Last edited by Penman on Mon Mar 15, 2021 8:54 am; edited 2 times in total
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PapaJoe



Joined: 09 Nov 2020
Posts: 52
Location: Massachusetts USA

PostPosted: Sun Mar 14, 2021 10:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rick and Penman, Iíve given many talks about my flying experiences over the years. Most were to young people interested in aviation, perhaps as a career.

As an airline pilot, I spent many layovers in London. So Iím a member of the Victory Services Club there. Although, since retiring, my bride and I havenít been back due to Covid. I miss the UK and plan to visit again as soon as conditions allow.

Joe
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