Got this from Schnappi, who is on the mend...



HOW SLOW CAN THE SR-71 FLY?

Very interesting story.

As a former SR-71 pilot and keynote speaker, the question I'm most often asked is: 'How fast would that SR-71 fly? ' I can be assured of hearing that question several times at any event I attend. It's an interesting question, given the aircraft's proclivity for speed. But there really isn't a single number to give . . as the turbo ramjet would always give you a little more speed if you wanted it to. It was common to see 35 miles a minute. But we typically flew a programmed Mach number.

But because we never wanted to harm the plane in any way, we never let it 'run out' to any limits of temperature or speed. Thus, each SR-71 pilot had his own personal high speed that he saw at some point during our missions. I saw my highest speed over Libya when Khadafy fired two missiles my way when max power was in order.

Let's just say that the Blackbird truly loved speed . . and effortlessly took us to high Mach numbers . . we had not previously seen. So it was with great surprise, when at the end of one of my presentations, someone asked 'What was the SLOWEST . . you ever flew the Blackbird?'

This was a first. After giving it some thought, I was reminded of a story that I had never shared before, and relayed the following: I was flying the SR-71 out of RAF Mildenhall, England, with my back seater, Walt Watson. We were returning from a mission over Europe and the Iron Curtain when we received a radio transmission from home base.

As we scooted across Denmark in three minutes, we learned that a small RAF base in the English countryside had requested an SR-71 fly-past. The Commander of air cadets there, a former Blackbird pilot, thought it would be a motivating moment for the young lads to see the mighty SR-71 perform a low approach.

No problem, we were happy to do it. After a quick aerial refueling over the North Sea, we proceeded to find the small airfield. In the back seat, Walter had a myriad of sophisticated navigation equipment and he began to vector me toward the field.

Descending to subsonic, we found ourselves over a densely wooded area in the slight haze. Like most former WWII British airfields, the one we were looking for had a small tower and little surrounding infrastructure. Walter told me we were close. And that I should be able to see the field. But as far as I could see in the haze . . I saw nothing but trees. We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from our 325 knot cruise. With the gear up . . anything under 275 knots . . was plain uncomfortable.

Walt said were practically over the field. Looking hard ... there was nothing in my windscreen. I banked the jet and started a gentle circling maneuver. . hoping to pick up anything that looked like a field.

Meanwhile, below, the Commander had taken the Cadets up on the control tower's cat walk . . to get a prime view. It was a quiet, still day with no wind and partial gray overcast. Walter continued to give me indications that the field should be below us. But in the overcast and haze, I couldn't see it. But the longer we continued to circle and peer out . . the slower we got.

With our power back, the awaiting cadets had silence. I must have had good instructors in my flying career, as something told me I better cross-check the gauges. As I noticed the airspeed indicator s-l-i-d-e below 160 knots, my heart stopped. My adrenalin-filled left hand . . shoved both throttles FULL FORWARD !

At this point we weren't really flying...but were falling in a slight bank. Just at that moment both afterburners lit with a thunderous roar of flame! And, what a joyous feeling that was as the aircraft fell into full view of the shocked observers on the catwalk.

Shattering the absolute quiet of that morning, they now had 107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their faces as the plane leveled and accelerated, in full burner, on the their side of the infield . . much closer than expected . . maintaining what could only be described as > some sort of ultimate knife-edge aerobatic pass.

We proceeded back to Mildenhall without incident . . not saying a word to each other for those next 14 minutes. After landing, our commander greeted us . . and we were both certain he was reaching for our wings.

Instead, he heartily shook our hands and said the Commander had told him it was the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen. Especially how we had surprised them with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as . . breathtaking.

Some of the cadet's hats were blown off. The sight of the plane in full afterburner . . dropping right in front of them . . was stunning . . unbelievable. Walt and I both understood the concept of 'breathtaking' very well that morning. And we sheepishly replied that the Cadets seemed . . just excited . . to see our low approach.

As we retired to the equipment room to change from space suits to flight suits, we just sat there. . hadn't spoken a word since the pass. Finally, Walter looked at me and said 'I saw One hundred fifty-six knots. What did you see? Trying to find my voice I stammered 'One hundred fifty-two.'

We sat in silence for a moment. Then Walt calmly said 'Don't ever do that to me again!' And I never did.

A year later, Walter and I were having lunch in the Mildenhall Officer's club, and overheard an officer talking to some cadets about an SR-71 fly-past that he'd seen one day.

Of course, by now the story included kids falling off the tower and screaming as the heat of the jet singed their eyebrows. As we stood there with lunch trays in our hands, the officer noticed our HABU [shoulder patch icon of a deadly snake] and asked us to verify to the Cadets that such an event occurred.
. ..they're pretty impressive in that airplane.' Impressive . . indeed.
Walt just shook his head and said 'It was probably just a routine low approach. Little did I realize that LOW SPEED experience . . would become one of the most requested of my stories. It's ironic . . that people now became very interested in how slow the World's fastest jet aircraft can fly.