The SR-71 "Buzzing the tower" story you probably never heard before

Share this video on

What's Hot

What's New

Top Grossing

Top of the Chart


TAOFLEDERMAUS : An off-topic video that I set to NOT notify subscribers. Figured I would just hear a lot of whining. Not sure how people are finding it.

twiggss : Always love hearing stories about the SR71.

Eric Taylor : "Are there any regulations that prohibit "buzzing the tower"? "No sir." "Have one on my desk by..."

aaron locascio : Almost as good as the "speed check" story.

Chris Penley : To go from flying the SR-71 to the 767 must have been awful. That's like going from an F1 racer to a potato.

Lod dude : I assume Danny wasn't around to see it, otherwise that thing would have landed at Beale 1oz heavier than normal : )

Kyle Gilmore : *Here's an even better story.* This is what I thought this video was going to be about, and to put it bluntly, it ended up being pretty anticlimactic. *Edit: FOR THOSE WITH THE READING COMPREHENSION OF A CHILD, **_THIS IS NOT A FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE_* I was flying the SR-71 out of RAF Mildenhall, England, with my back-seater, Walt Watson; we were returning from a mission over Europe and the Iron Curtain when we received a radio transmission from home base. As we scooted across Denmark in three minutes, we learned that a small RAF base in the English countryside had requested an SR-71 fly-past. The air cadet commander there was a former Blackbird pilot, and thought it would be a motivating moment for the young lads to see the mighty SR-71 perform a low approach. No problem, we were happy to do it. After a quick aerial refueling over the North Sea, we proceeded to find the small airfield. Walter had a myriad of sophisticated navigation equipment in the back seat, and began to vector me toward the field. Descending to subsonic speeds, we found ourselves over a densely wooded area in a slight haze. Like most former WWII British airfields, the one we were looking for had a small tower and little surrounding infrastructure. Walter told me we were close and that I should be able to see the field, but I saw nothing. Nothing but trees as far as I could see in the haze. We got a little lower, and I pulled the throttles back from 325 knots we were at. With the gear up, anything under 275 was just uncomfortable. Walt said we were practically over the field-yet; there was nothing in my windscreen. I banked the jet and started a gentle circling maneuver in hopes of picking up anything that looked like a field. Meanwhile, below, the cadet commander had taken the cadets up on the catwalk of the tower in order to get a prime view of the fly-past. It was a quiet, still day with no wind and partial gray overcast. Walter continued to give me indications that the field should be below us but in the overcast and haze, I couldn’t see it. The longer we continued to peer out the window and circle, the slower we got. With our power back, the awaiting cadets heard nothing. I must have had good instructors in my flying career, as something told me I better cross-check the gauges. As I noticed the airspeed indicator slide below 160 knots, my heart stopped and my adrenaline-filled left hand pushed two throttles full forward. At this point we weren’t really flying, but were falling in a slight bank. Just at the moment that both afterburners lit with a thunderous roar of flame (and what a joyous feeling that was) the aircraft fell into full view of the shocked observers on the tower. Shattering the still quiet of that morning, they now had 107 feet of fire-breathing titanium in their face as the plane leveled and accelerated, in full burner, on the tower side of the infield, closer than expected, maintaining what could only be described as some sort of ultimate knife-edge pass. Quickly reaching the field boundary, we proceeded back to Mildenhall without incident. We didn’t say a word for those next 14 minutes. After landing, our commander greeted us, and we were both certain he was reaching for our wings. Instead, he heartily shook our hands and said the commander had told him it was the greatest SR-71 fly-past he had ever seen, especially how we had surprised them with such a precise maneuver that could only be described as breathtaking. He said that some of the cadet’s hats were blown off and the sight of the plan form of the plane in full afterburner dropping right in front of them was unbelievable. Walt and I both understood the concept of ‘breathtaking’ very well that morning and sheepishly replied that they were just excited to see our low approach. As we retired to the equipment room to change from space suits to flight suits, we just sat there-we hadn’t spoken a word since ‘the pass.’ Finally, Walter looked at me and said, ‘One hundred fifty-six knots. What did you see?’ Trying to find my voice, I stammered, ‘One hundred fifty-two.’ We sat in silence for a moment. Then Walt said, ‘Don’t ever do that to me again!’ And I never did. A year later, Walter and I were having lunch in the Mildenhall Officer’s club, and overheard an officer talking to some cadets about an SR-71 fly-past that he had seen one day. Of course, by now the story included kids falling off the tower and screaming as the heat of the jet singed their eyebrows. Noticing our HABU patches, as we stood there with lunch trays in our hands, he asked us to verify to the cadets that such a thing had occurred. Walt just shook his head and said, ‘It was probably just a routine low approach; they’re pretty impressive in that plane.’

fellenXD : Pasta-time: "There were a lot of things we couldn't do in an SR-71, but we were the fastest guys on the block and loved reminding our fellow aviators of this fact. People often asked us if, because of this fact, it was fun to fly the jet. Fun would not be the first word I would use to describe flying this plane. Intense, maybe. Even cerebral. But there was one day in our Sled experience when we would have to say that it was pure fun to be the fastest guys out there, at least for a moment. It occurred when Walt and I were flying our final training sortie. We needed 100 hours in the jet to complete our training and attain Mission Ready status. Somewhere over Colorado we had passed the century mark. We had made the turn in Arizona and the jet was performing flawlessly. My gauges were wired in the front seat and we were starting to feel pretty good about ourselves, not only because we would soon be flying real missions but because we had gained a great deal of confidence in the plane in the past ten months. Ripping across the barren deserts 80,000 feet below us, I could already see the coast of California from the Arizona border. I was, finally, after many humbling months of simulators and study, ahead of the jet. I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for Walter in the back seat. There he was, with no really good view of the incredible sights before us, tasked with monitoring four different radios. This was good practice for him for when we began flying real missions, when a priority transmission from headquarters could be vital. It had been difficult, too, for me to relinquish control of the radios, as during my entire flying career I had controlled my own transmissions. But it was part of the division of duties in this plane and I had adjusted to it. I still insisted on talking on the radio while we were on the ground, however. Walt was so good at many things, but he couldn't match my expertise at sounding smooth on the radios, a skill that had been honed sharply with years in fighter squadrons where the slightest radio miscue was grounds for beheading. He understood that and allowed me that luxury. Just to get a sense of what Walt had to contend with, I pulled the radio toggle switches and monitored the frequencies along with him. The predominant radio chatter was from Los Angeles Center, far below us, controlling daily traffic in their sector. While they had us on their scope (albeit briefly), we were in uncontrolled airspace and normally would not talk to them unless we needed to descend into their airspace. We listened as the shaky voice of a lone Cessna pilot asked Center for a readout of his ground speed. Center replied: "November Charlie 175, I'm showing you at ninety knots on the ground." Now the thing to understand about Center controllers, was that whether they were talking to a rookie pilot in a Cessna, or to Air Force One, they always spoke in the exact same, calm, deep, professional, tone that made one feel important. I referred to it as the " Houston Center voice." I have always felt that after years of seeing documentaries on this country's space program and listening to the calm and distinct voice of the Houston controllers, that all other controllers since then wanted to sound like that, and that they basically did. And it didn't matter what sector of the country we would be flying in, it always seemed like the same guy was talking. Over the years that tone of voice had become somewhat of a comforting sound to pilots everywhere. Conversely, over the years, pilots always wanted to ensure that, when transmitting, they sounded like Chuck Yeager, or at least like John Wayne. Better to die than sound bad on the radios. Just moments after the Cessna's inquiry, a Twin Beech piped up on frequency, in a rather superior tone, asking for his ground speed. "I have you at one hundred and twenty-five knots of ground speed." Boy, I thought, the Beechcraft really must think he is dazzling his Cessna brethren. Then out of the blue, a navy F-18 pilot out of NAS Lemoore came up on frequency. You knew right away it was a Navy jock because he sounded very cool on the radios. "Center, Dusty 52 ground speed check". Before Center could reply, I'm thinking to myself, hey, Dusty 52 has a ground speed indicator in that million-dollar cockpit, so why is he asking Center for a readout? Then I got it, ol' Dusty here is making sure that every bug smasher from Mount Whitney to the Mojave knows what true speed is. He's the fastest dude in the valley today, and he just wants everyone to know how much fun he is having in his new Hornet. And the reply, always with that same, calm, voice, with more distinct alliteration than emotion: "Dusty 52, Center, we have you at 620 on the ground." And I thought to myself, is this a ripe situation, or what? As my hand instinctively reached for the mic button, I had to remind myself that Walt was in control of the radios. Still, I thought, it must be done - in mere seconds we'll be out of the sector and the opportunity will be lost. That Hornet must die, and die now. I thought about all of our Sim training and how important it was that we developed well as a crew and knew that to jump in on the radios now would destroy the integrity of all that we had worked toward becoming. I was torn. Somewhere, 13 miles above Arizona, there was a pilot screaming inside his space helmet. Then, I heard it. The click of the mic button from the back seat. That was the very moment that I knew Walter and I had become a crew. Very professionally, and with no emotion, Walter spoke: "Los Angeles Center, Aspen 20, can you give us a ground speed check?" There was no hesitation, and the replay came as if was an everyday request. "Aspen 20, I show you at one thousand eight hundred and forty-two knots, across the ground." I think it was the forty-two knots that I liked the best, so accurate and proud was Center to deliver that information without hesitation, and you just knew he was smiling. But the precise point at which I knew that Walt and I were going to be really good friends for a long time was when he keyed the mic once again to say, in his most fighter-pilot-like voice: "Ah, Center, much thanks, we're showing closer to nineteen hundred on the money." For a moment Walter was a god. And we finally heard a little crack in the armor of the Houston Center voice, when L.A.came back with, "Roger that Aspen, Your equipment is probably more accurate than ours. You boys have a good one." It all had lasted for just moments, but in that short, memorable sprint across the southwest, the Navy had been flamed, all mortal airplanes on freq were forced to bow before the King of Speed, and more importantly, Walter and I had crossed the threshold of being a crew. A fine day's work. We never heard another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast. For just one day, it truly was fun being the fastest guys out there."

grovermatic : I can't imagine the cool stories SR-71 pilots would like to tell us, but can't.

NeonIceCube : Most complicated story to impress a girl I ever heard.

SineEyed 2020 : I wonder if the other 767 pilot was butthurt about cutting into his game like that lol. I mean, nothing steals another guy's thunder like coming in with a _"so, didja hear I flew the friggin SR-71?".._

Drew Alsup : my late grand uncle Earnie Johnson was a jet engine mechanic and worked on these incredible aircraft while he was in the service and so did his brother Frederick Johnson who was also a helicopter pilot in 1957, I got to meet one of them when I was a kid freddy died a month before I was born from cancer that was caused by exposure to agent orange during the Vietnam war, he was also a gunsmith, a locksmith, and scuba diver, who had a patent for a diving regulator some real secret agent type of stuff for the time, they were both incredible men and lifelong tinkerers and held the Sr-71 close to their hearts, may they rest in peace their families proud of them

Johnny Civilian : Negative ghost rider, the pattern is full.

Biggus Mickus : I grew up in the Scottish Highlands, and in the 80's it was a common thing for RAF pilots (and the odd American too) to do random low level fly-bys of villages. Mostly for lulz. As a kid, this was awesome. Especially the time a Harrier passed overhead while supersonic, about 20 feet above the roof of the school. It was a silent woosh of a plane zipping past then a moment later the shockwave/noise hit so hard the goalposts fell over (as did several of the smaller kids). I was in goal at the time. I thought it was awesome but the teachers complained to the RAF. Spoilsports.

J-Anderson : I did 110 in my Corolla once!

Pat Price : I was stationed at Beale AFB and worked the Q's that passed gas to the Blackbirds.  Years later I became an FE on C-141. On a trip back from overseas I was monitoring the radio when I heard an aircraft contact center and request FL 500 (50,000 Ft). The controller replied "If you can make it, you got it". The aircraft responded "Roger, descending to FL500". I knew exactly what plane it was.

Rob Trubiano : On some days some men are the luckiest men on the planet

Charles H : I love a Great story! I have a brief little one of my own to add. My Grandfather worked for Mobil as a chemical engineer his whole career working mostly with fuels and lubricants. A few years back we went to the Air and Space museum's Udvar-Hazy Center. As we were walking around, my grandfather goes up to the blackbird and starts casually telling us all about the fuel it uses how it's basically a super refined kerosene with special additives to tweak it as necessary. Turns out he had been a part of developing the fuel for it! As we continued throughout the museum he pointed out some rockets that he had been a part of development too. It was all pretty cool, because previously none of us, even my grandmother, knew that he had been a part of these projects. He's gone now and will be missed, but it's neat to know some of the things that he did in his career. It makes you wonder what else he worked on that he could never talk about!

Kyle Towers : In the late 60's or early 70's, my dad was on a tractor in a field when a fighter pilot from the local reserve squadron decided to buzz him. He came from behind at so close to Mach 1 that dad didn't hear him until he was almost on top of him. He was low enough that dad felt heat from the exhaust. Just about crapped his pants.

Grandpa the Grey : My favorite aircraft of all time. Looks like it's doing Mach 1 while sitting on the ground. I was in the Air Force in 71 when Nixon mined Haiphong Harbor, Vietnam. The Air Force went to DEFCON 3 & started rotating aircraft from their home base to bases that don't normally see such aircraft. I was working on an Aircraft Arresting Barrier crew at Kingsley Field, Oregon so I was on the flight line. Two of these beauties landed at Kingsley at different times & stayed 24 hrs. Was able to get close up to an SR-71 & even met the crew. Oh man what a beautiful aircraft, although... I was amazed at how much fuel it leaked while parked. The take off of an SR-71 is a sight to behold.

David Killens : So that's who it was. I was at the Toronto air show, and the SR-71 made some lovely passes. But everyone knows that for airshows there are restrictions, including a ban on overflying the crowd. Since this airshow was on a lakeshore, all the aircraft kept over the water. But for the final pass, he approached from the East, did a wide 360 turn to the left (probably took 3 miles), but instead of keeping over the water, he went low over the crowd, pulled his nose up high, and just climbed out of sight. I knew it was a hotshot pilot that day, but they, how can you stop someone like that from having some fun? You have to have brave and bold men like that at the tip of the spear, they are the ones who are first to step up and defend freedom.

Karnegis : I grew up near Beal AFB and my neighbor was a Cornel stationed there during the Cold War. He told my dad and I a story of how they hacked into a soviet satellite that tracked planes. They had one Black Bird going out to a mission and another coming back to Beal so they had the flight plans over lap so one plane flew directly towards the other like playing chicken with one flying over the other by a few thousand feet when they crossed. The computer on the Soviet satellite could not calculate the closing speed and caused it to malfunction and shut down for a while.

muhkuh123321 : you had me at "buzzing the tower" and sr-71

Greg Gallacci : One of the last SR-7's coast-to-coast flights was justly famous, but when you look closer at the numbers, it is amazing! The plane had to take off nearly empty and then climb to altitude to refuel. Fueling is done at a shallow dive so the tanker can fly fast enough for the Blackbird! After fueling the Bird makes a sharp climb to find thinner air, then a high-speed dash to drain the tanks, and another refueling cycle. Full tanks, another fast dash, then refuel for landing approach. Sure, they went from California to DC in less than three hours if you only count take-off and landing times. But when you factor in the time spent fueling and all that, they were going stupid-fast for less than an hour. How far past 'Plaid' can this beast go?

Cdabek : I love hearing stories about the SR-71

carmium : An SR-71 also made a fly-by at the Abbotsford International Airshow many years back (don't ask me when). I was working in my Vancouver shop on the warm August Saturday of the show, and I had the door to the parking lot open. Suddenly, the loudest jet roar I'd ever heard filled the building; I ran outside and of course the plane was probably 40 miles away at the show by then! A guy was standing on a loading dock across the lane with a bit of a "WTF?" look on his face: "Was that the Blackbird?" I called. He didn't know. "Was it huge, sorta triangular, and black?" Yes, it was. I went back inside, sorry to have missed it, but kept my ears open. It wasn't long before the roar built again and I sprinted for the door, only to see the distinctive rear profile of the plane quickly getting smaller as it headed west. Not until Star Wars came out years later, and everyone knew what the Millennium Falcon looked like jumping in hyperspace, would I have a comparison for happened next: there was a blue flash of afterburners on the massive engines and the plane simply disappeared out over the ocean. Quite impressive.

moparedtn : I absolutely love this sort of stuff. Not even comparable but nonetheless, out here on the side of a ridge in the middle of nowhere TN we've been routinely buzzed by all manner of military aircraft over the years; these ridges and valleys must be on part of routine training missionflight paths or something even though we're nowhere near any bases or airports. Since my place is shoved up high on the side of the ridge, when jet fighters or such crank it through here, sometimes you find yourself looking SIDEWAYS at them rather than up at them as they come through. Great stuff to witness. Best was when a pair of the V-22 Ospreys came down the valley one day, side by side. They were so low I was actually looking DOWN on them as I sat on my tractor. What an amazing sight - and the SOUND! OMG, the sound. Incredible.

Randy She : Jeff - Look for the "LA Speed Story" by this same pilot!!

John Mark Smith : I could listen to stories like this for hours on end. Thank you.

John Parrish : I remember a story of an SR-71 buzzing an airfield in England that was all messed up. Seems he was requested to do the flyby but the could not find the field because visibility was so bad. They flew to low and damn near hit a hill top, went to full power and pulled straight up, giving up on finding the tiny field. They landed and were congratulated on a good show, the field was next to the hill. Don't know if its true or not but an SR-71 pilot said it.

John Hull : Gotta love the USA...seriously

It’s Mr Lone Wolf : There’s not much out there that can upstage a B2! But I think this is one of the few exceptions! Stunning plane

Dominic Deluca : an SR-71 type of dart would be cool to see shot from a gun.

Fifth Amendment : I love these stories. I was stationed in Guam in 89' when we had the blackbird land. I was a security specialist, and my sergeant had his brand new video camera and just had to film it taking off. So, we drove down about 3/4 the way down the ramp, parallel to the runway and waited. We heard the tower give the clearance for take off over the radio. So my sergeant started filming and here comes the plane winding up speed really fast. This was the first time we had seen the plane in person and neither of us knew what to expect. Frankly, we thought it would be like pretty much every other plane taking off. Wrong! My sergeant was standing outside our police vehicle, a Ford Bronco, a few feet from the drivers door. As he's filming, the plane is coming really quick. You could see the jet wash was curling around and out with full afterburners lit up. And just as the plane streaked past us, the jet wash violently threw him against the drivers door and he dropped the video camera he had just spent $1200 for as a Christmas present for his wife. Yeah, the camera was done for. But, the blackbird didn't disappoint either of us.

Garrett Burrows : I fell in love with this plane as a child and still love it. Im 40

Bomber Harris : Youtube refusing to give notifications for this, it's not even in my sub box.

Crispy K : So that explains all the new rules for flying a drone in your garden these days... Cool story ;) Must have been amazing to live it !

Grendel Grendelson : I saw one of these once in 1977/78 flying over my town in Norfolk in England. What an aircraft.

CLureCo : My cousin actually piloted one, and I was lucky enough for him to bring tapes that we all were able to watch, on vhs. It was amazing hearing him talk about it, while we watched. That was a loooong time ago....

PikeyScott : My favorite TFM video of the year. Thanks for recording him Jeff!

Michael Thomas : Love it. Find more stories like this. Awesome.👍👍👍👍

Brian Cox : The only thing that matches the Blackbird's capabilities is the size of their pilots' brass attachments and their willingness to engage in shenanigans.

WhiteDwarfVR4 : LMAO!! Talk about cok blocking🤣🤣🤣

Michael Krutz : Nice! Gotta love the Blackbird! 🤣😂

The Angriest Puppy : ... and then we had a devil's threesome in the cockpit

ohtehlolz : I could listen to stories like that all day, especially with a SR-71 involved.

f1620mm : Good Old American 80’s fun! Nobody was hurt and nobody sued! The good days!

Smokey '87 : GREAT STORY!!! Mr. Rosenberg must be one hell of a pilot! Really fun story! Thanks!

Caleb Champion : and then the Capt.  glared at me with a look "HOW DARE YOU STEAL MY GIRL" .

Hanky Bannist8r : I don't live too far from Beale AFB, I wish I could have seen the SR fly just once ! We get U-2's and T-38s daily over my house. What a great story.