Daily Archives: 4th February 2011

The Ghost Plane

That Blackbird story reminds me of an interesting story I was once told by my old friend Steve, who lived in Leeds at the time.

Steve was an avid airband radio listener. Living about a mile from Leeds/Bradford Airport in Yeadon, Steve used to hear all sorts of aviation radio traffic.

He’d get routine aerodrome and circuit traffic:

“Leeds Tower, Golf Alpha Romeo Oscar Charlie requesting taxi clearance for VFR departure to the north-west as booked, three p.o.b” “Oscar Charlie, taxi holding point Bravo for your checks” “Taxi hold Bravo, Oscar Charlie”

“Oscar Charlie, downwind touch-and-go” “Oscar Charlie, roger, report final” “Report final, Oscar Charlie”

Airliner traffic:

“Leeds Approach, Speedbird 7 en route Pole Hill, requesting weather”

Military traffic:

“Leeds Approach, Pirate One and Two, low level training sortie, two Jaguars from Coltishall en route Grassington for low-level practice, requesting radar information service”

And then there was this one. Brief, curt, clipped and in an American accent:

“Shadow 1, descending through Flight Level Eight Zero Zero”.

FL800, for those who are not aware of the terminology, is eighty thousand feet. In figures, it looks like this: 80,000ft. That’s a hell of a long way up – just over fifteen miles up in fact. Airliners generally fly no higher than about FL420 – 42,000ft. Concorde flew routinely at about FL520 – 52,000ft – with a ceiling (max altitude) of 60,000ft.

So, what was Shadow 1? Where had he been, to be descending through 80,000ft (which means he’d actually been up higher than that!) There can be little doubt that it was a US reconnaisance aircraft of some sort, most likely a Lockheed TR-1A


Lockheed TR-1A

or perhaps even the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird:


SR-71 Blackbird

…both of which routinely operated at that kind of altitude. There is really nothing else that it could have been. I guess Steve was lucky to have heard something like that transmitting on a non-encrypted frequency. But what a thought, it’s enough to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck…. “Descending through Flight Level Eight Zero Zero”.


Flight of the Blackbird

Here’s an excellent aviation anecdote from a member of a very select group of pilots…..

“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 [a slightly larger and faster light aircraft than a Cessna] soon made the same request. “One-twenty on the ground,” was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 [jet fighter] 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”.

From http://flagstillstandsforfreedom.com/blackbird/


[For those who don’t know, this article is by a crewman in an SR-71 ‘Blackbird’; a high-speed, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft that could fly very, very fast and very, very high]