Fair Winds Brian Shul

Ventucky Red

Pattern Altitude
Jan 9, 2013
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Fair winds sir, and thank you.


I think we have all been entertained with his "speed check" story and check this tooGood listen if you have the time

From Sled Driver:

Part of our training included learning to fly the SR-71 at night. Night flying in any aircraft was challenging, but it was even more difficult in the Sled. The airplane's cockpit lighting had changed very little since it was first built, and the old-style system did not uniformly illuminate all the gauges. If the lights were turned up so the dimmest gauge could be easily read, the cockpit flooded with light that bounced off the inward canting of the side windows and the sharp-angled front windscreen. The windscreens became mirrors reflecting the cockpit scene back to me, and obstructed my ability to see out. By turning the lights down low, I reduced these distracting reflections and could more easily see important things like other aircraft, or the runway. I had to make a trade-off between being able to read all the instruments, or being able to see outside. During aerial refueling, I spent most of the time staring at the tanker's director lights and didn't need to study cockpit gauges, so the lights
remained dimmed. Once we started the acceleration maneuver, I turned the cockpit lighting up. We weren't as concerned with seeing and avoiding other traffic at the altitudes we frequented. Above 50,000 feet, the sky was ours. My cockpit became a womb of brightly lit instruments climbing into the black sky. With no outside references, I sometimes felt as if we were in the simulator instead of the jet.

Whether the moon was full or in its last quarter, it dominated the sky. High above the haze and pollution of the earth's atmosphere, its light was so intense, I had to squint when I looked outside. I could see more of the moon's surface and its craters and textures than I had ever seen from the ground. Sometimes I had to use the sunshades to block the moonlight's glare from disrupting my view of the gauges.

I described earlier how fuel seeped through the minute seams outlining the panels composing the surface of the jet. Although little leakage occurred when the skin heated up and sealed the seams, some fuel remained on the surface. Through the periscope, I could see the moon's incandescent image shimmering in the residual fuel. The top of the aircraft glowed in the eerie light, like a wet street after a downpour. Although this was beautiful, I was more intrigued by the sights in a dark sky on a certain night when there was no moon at all.

It happened during the early hours of the morning, while Walt and I were over the Pacific, having passed the northwest coast of the United States. We were heading, in a round about way, back toward Beale. Our jet was running smoothly and we would soon be home resting our weary bodies after another training mission. With no moon above and no lights from the ocean below, the night was darker than usual. Out of habit, I peered outside through the glare of the cockpit lighting and noticed the faint glimmer of stars. To fully see the night sky, I would have to turn down important cockpit lights to reduce the glare on my windows. I was reluctant to turn my lighting too far down because I didn't want to be in an awkward position if something were to go wrong with the airplane.

Desire to see the stars overruled my caution and I began to turn the lights down one at a time, carefully leaving a few critical gauges well lit. My eyes adjusted to the lower level of light and I gradually saw more stars through the remaining reflections on the windows. On impulse, I flicked the remaining lights off, then quickly back on. An image flashed through my head of a teenager driving down a dark country road who flicks his head lights off for a seconds is enveloped by darkness, then flicks them back on. I chuckled at the comparison. The jet reassured me as it purred rock solid, so I turned the remaining lights off. I was immediately startled; were those the lights of another aircraft out to my right? My disbelief soon turned to awe as I realized in the calm darkness, that what I saw was not the bright lights of any man-made vehicle, but the brilliant expanse of the Milky Way. Unlike the view from the ground, at 78,000 feet there were few spaces unlit in the sky. Shooting stars appeared and faded every few seconds. The spectacle was mesmerizing, but I knew I must bring my eyes back to the flight instruments. When I did, I discovered my entire cockpit bathed in starlight bright enough to illuminate all the gauges. I needed no cockpit lighting and revelled in the ghostly sight of my space suit dimly lit in the starlight.

Feeling I was stealing precious moments from a jealous jet, I glanced once more outside. With all those clusters of light, it seemed as if there should be sounds. My experience told me sounds went with great displays of light. City lights coexist with the sounds of traffic, and rockets firing and exploding coincide with the display of fireworks. Even a planetarium has music and narration accompanying the sequence of stars. In contrast, this sight was a symphony of silence. I became very aware of the sound of my own breathing. For a brief moment I was more than an Air Force pilot on a training flight. Our incredible speed became insignificant as the jet seemed to stand still before the heavens. I was part of something larger and more profound. I
felt a joy to be at this place, at this time, looking at these stars.

Walt's voice crackled over the intercom, jolting me back to the tasks at hand with a reminder of our upcoming descent. I turned the lights back up and left that peaceful yet powerful scene. As we started down, I didn't know that this was the last time I would experience this concert of stars. Although I flew on dark and moonless nights again, they were never routine enough to turn off the lights and cruise by starlight.
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The Untouchables is just as good a read as Sled Driver. Great SR-71 stories. He wrote a couple of other books on the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels as well. Spent almost the whole season with the Blues has excellent photography in it.

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