Philip R. Moyer, Author
Editor's Note: Mr. Moyer details his experiences in the SR-71 Flight Simulator at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center [DFRC] at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Permission has been granted to republish Mr. Moyer's article for inclusion on the SR-71 Blackbirds Webpage.
Hang onto your "D" ring and fly the SR-71 at Mach 3+
The simulator room is on the ground floor of the main building (I forget the number; sorry). You have to walk through the SR hangar, which is restricted, and down a hallway to get to it. Then you have to be buzzed in. It appears to be a room full of computers, but at the back there's a fire door. If you go through, you're in a room roughly two stories high. There is a balcony area covering about half the room, with access to the simulator catwalk, the RSO simulator (which is stationary), and the operator's consoles. The door comes out onto the balcony, which is about 1/3 of the way up the wall. The cockpit section of the simulator, which is black and looks a lot like the cockpit section of the SR-71B, is on hydraulics at the same level as the balcony. The cockpit section moves to simulate flight motion. There is a short metal catwalk out to the cockpit.
At the rear of the cockpit section is the instructor's station. It has a VDT nav display and simulator controls. The pilot's seat rolls back on a track, since the canopy does not open. Once the pilot is in the seat, the instructor pushes it all the way forward. At that point, the pilot (me! :-) is encased in the cockpit. The stick is well positioned and is twisted for a right-handed pilot to grasp comfortably. Instrument layout is good (except where noted below). Major flight instrumentation is on the front panel in front of the pilot, as well as important engine controls. These instruments include gear controls, attitude indicator (artificial horizon), backup attitude indicator, vertical speed indicator, fuel quantity and take selection, triple display (KEAS, altitude, and mach number). Also on the front panel are the altimiter, machmeter, KEAS indicator (knots equivalent airspeed), cip guage (compressor inlet pressure), spike position guages and knobs, inlet pressure, exhaust gas temperature, and all the caution and warning lights.
On the right hand panel there's nav equipment, autopilot, some stuff I don't remember. On the left panel there's circuit breakers, environmental controls, radio, and throttle quadrant. I know this isn't everything, but I don't have the flight manual in front of me.
The "windows" on the simulator are translucent plastic with lights behind them. We took off in daylight, then transitioned to night flight. In other words, the operator turned off the window lights. :-) For this reason the flight starts sitting on the runway with engines at idle.
[switch to pilot report mode]
I was running about 15 minutes late for a 1300 hours scheduled takeoff. Engine runup on the runway, full military power with toe brakes applied, was normal. Engine rpm came up, at which point I released the brakes and lifted the throttle past the gate into afterburner. The burners kicked in with the usual thump [you actually feel and hear it in the sim]. All systems were nominal as I rolled down the runway. At 175 knots I rotated the aircraft. I left the ground at 210 knots and began my climbout.
The first thing I did after takeoff was raise the gear. At this point, my nose was a bit high, as KEAS was not climbing. I reduced the angle of climb to 15 degrees and the airspeed increased appropriately. I took a gentle turn to the West and continued around Palmdale, settling eventually on an Easterly course towards Las Vegas, NV.
A few minutes after takeoff I executed (poorly :-) a dip to push through Mach 1. Airspeed increased rapidly (as did altitude) after the A/C went supersonic. Flight time from takeoff to Las Vegas was 12 minutes. I was over Mach 2 when I executed a 90 degree turn to the North after passing Las Vegas. I trimmed the aircraft and engaged roll and pitch autopilots, maintain KEAS autopilot, and the autonavigation system. At that point the aircraft continued a 10 degree climb to FL 800 (80,000 feet). The normal flight profile calls for a KEAS of approximately 450.
At approximately 74,000 feet and Mach 3.1, somewhere over Colorado, I believe, I experienced an unstart in the left engine. It was a relatively gentle unstart, and I was able to control the fast roll to the out engine with relative ease. The computer immediately advanced the spike to spike station 0 and reaquired the shock wave. The engine was operating normally seconds after the unstart. The SR-71 yaws and rolls immediately to the out engine side when experincing an unstart. This requires quick response from the pilot. At these speeds, it is important not to pull the nose up while recovering from an unstart, as the plane will break in half from aerodynamic forces at an alpha (angle of attack) of 8 degrees.
I continued North while climbing. During the time I approached the Canadian border, I experienced three more unstarts, two in the port engine and one in the starboard engine (sympathetic unstart during a port engine unstart). Each time, the autopilot stayed engaged and the computers reset the inlet spikes. The only pilot input, other than maintaining the aircraft's attitude (which requires a bit of work, I'll tell ya), is to rearm the derich system.
Just before reaching the Canadian border, I experienced a violent unstart in the port engine (strong enough to bash my head solidly against the cockpit window). The unstarts are accompanied by an unsettlingly loud "bam" from aft in the aircraft, followed by a rapid roll. There is a laser-projected artificial horizon across the front instrument panel. This is very convenient, because during an unstart the pilot needs to pay attention to the attitude indicator, the CIP guage, and the spike position guages. It is distracting to look from the lower-left front panel (CIP and spike guages) to the ADI at the top-center panel. The laser artificial horizon allows the pilot to look at the spike controls while recovering the A/C's attitude with peripheral vision.
As the computers were attempting to recover from the unstart, the left nacelle fire indicator lit. Shortly thereafter, I lost the port side turbine. At that point, I initiated a gentle westerly turn to return to base and pulled the port throttle to idle. The aircraft at this point (about Mach 3 and 78,000 feet) was difficult to control, and was rolling from side to side as I attempted to maintain control. Over Idaho, in the middle of my turnaround, the warning light for left generator lit, indicating that the port side generator had failed.
As I continued my turn, I experienced an unstart in the starboard engine. Much to my concern, this was followed almost immediately by a right side turbine failure and right nacelle fire. I reduced the throttle and brought the nose down to maintain approximately 368 KEAS. The SR-71 does not make an impressive glider, even at Mach 3, and I began rapidly losing altitude. Unfortunately, at that point I lost the right side generator, and along with it, the majority of the cockpit instrumentation. The only instruments I had in my glider at that point was the TDI, backup attitude indicator, and a compass. Losing altitude, airspeed, and control (the stability augmentation computers were lost along with the right side generator) rapidly, I "ejected" at 47,000 feet and mach 1.2, somewhere over southern Utah.
[end pilot report]
I climbed out and my jaw muscles were sore from clenching my teeth, my head hurt from the unstart that slapped me into the cockpit window, and I was dripping sweat. I was also in heaven, just from the opportunity to fly the simulator. What an experience!