"Keep the pointy end forward"

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In 1962, the first Blackbird successfully flew, and in 1966, the same year I graduated from high school, the Air Force began flying operational SR-71 missions. 

I came to the program in 1983, with a sterling record and a recommendation from my commander, completing the weeklong interview, and meeting Walt, my partner for the next four years.  He would ride four feet behind me, working all the cameras, radios, and electronic jamming equipment. 

I joked, that if we were ever captured, he was the spy, and I was just the driver He told me to keep the pointy end forward.

We trained for a year, flying out of Beale AFB in California , Kadena Airbase in Okinawa , and RAF Mildenhall in England.  On a typical training mission, we would take off near Sacramento, refuel over Nevada, accelerate into Montana, obtain a high Mach speed over Colorado , turn right over New Mexico, speed across the Los Angeles Basin, run up the West Coast, turn right at Seattle , then return to Beale. 

Total flight time:- Two Hours and Forty Minutes.

One day, high above Arizona , we were monitoring the radio traffic, of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. 'Ninety knots,' ATC replied. A Bonanza soon made the same request. 'One-twenty on the ground,' was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio, with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley, know what real speed was, 'Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,' ATC responded.

The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walt's mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walt startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, 'Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.' 

We did not hear another transmission on that frequency, all the way to the coast :o)

Dino Boito
Copyright Mike Wardley, 2010