‘“Beautiful, beautiful, come back and do another one,” the tower controller said,’ Maury Rosenberg, SR-71 Blackbird pilot
The Lockheed A-12 and YF-12A aircraft served as the foundation for the development of the SR-71, also referred to as the “Blackbird” or long-range, advanced strategic reconnaissance aircraft.
The SR-71 Blackbird is the only reconnaissance aircraft in history to have operated in more hostile airspace and with such complete impunity. It is the fastest aircraft propelled by air-breathing engines. The Blackbird represented the highest point in aviation technology development during the Cold War due to its performance and operational achievements.
The Blackbird was built to reach altitudes of up to 85,000 feet and cruise at “Mach 3+,” three times faster than the speed of sound, or more than 2,200 miles per hour.
The following tape transcription, which was recorded in 2018 at the Western Museum of Flight, reports SR-71 Pilot Maury Rosenberg discussing the one occasion when he chose to ask for a “fly-by” over the Sacramento airport while returning to Beale Air Force Base (AFB), where he was supposed to land.
The request was eagerly approved by the air tower crew, who wanted him to fly the SR-71 “down the ramp” (much closer to the tower and other buildings).
‘I think it was the 1982 or 83 Toronto Airshow. I was a participant; we took an SR-71 and three crews went. One crew flew it in. One crew flew on the second-day airshow. And the third crew, which was myself, flew just a couple of flybys on the third day of the airshow and then actually flew the aircraft back to Beale Air Force Base. So when I came back into the Sacramento area and I was descending down to land at Beale, we had a lot of fuel. We had to work on the holiday, and I asked the backseater You want to make an approach at Sac Metro? And he said Can we do that? And I said Why not?
‘So, when we got over to approach control I asked if Sac Metro was available for an approach and they said they’d switch this over to Sac Metro and they cleared us for an approach. So, as we were coming down final and we had configured the airplane with the gear down and we’re about two miles out on final, they switched us over to tower.
‘I asked the tower Would you like a flyby down the runway or down the ramp? The guy said Down the ramp! When I said okay, I sucked the gear up, pushed the power up. We started heading towards the ramp, towards the tower. As we were approaching it, I rolled the plane up away from the tower and lit the afterburners. We went around and made a pass. The tower controller said, “Beautiful, beautiful, come back and do another one”. I said I better not, I’m gonna go to Beale. So, we went back to Beale and we landed.
‘As I mentioned it was a holiday weekend and Colonel Lonnie met us when we pulled in the hangar after we landed which was the normal procedure. I thought well that’s nice that he came out. As I came down the ladder from the aircraft, he looked at me and he said Maury, do we have any regulations that say we can’t make approaches at Sacramento Airport? I said No sir.
I want one on my desk at seven o’clock tomorrow morning.
‘Now there’s a continuation to this story. I retired in 87 and flew with United Airlines. I was a Boeing 767 co-pilot and in 87, I think it was either the fall of 87 or the winter of 88 right after the New Year, I was flying a 767 from Washington DC to San Francisco and an air traffic controller wanted to know if they could ride in the cockpit. The captain of the plane signed it off. So, this young lady was the air traffic controller. I was flying, it was my leg from DC to San Francisco.
‘We’re flying and he’s just talking to her halfway across the country and at some point, he asked her how long she’d worked at San Francisco Airport. She hadn’t been there that long, she said she used to work at Sac Metro. I looked over my shoulder at this young lady and I said Were you working Sac Metro in 1982? She looked at me and she said yeah, I was, why do you ask? I said Were you working the tower when the SR-71 buzzed it? Oh yeah, I was how did you know that and I told her it was me and she started laughing. She said you scared the hell out of people, there were people in the terminal that dived to the ground. They thought the airplane was going to hit the turf.’
Photo by Unknown