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”.


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