FOREWORD: The Third Part Of My Three-Part Review
It's taken a while, so here is the third part of my review of the SR-71 Blackbird in FSX. The first and second parts of my review were of the SR-71 aircraft add-on and the Beale Air Force Base add-on, both made by AlphaSim. The SR-71 was a supersonic high-altitude spy plane, and Beale AFB in California was its home on the continental USA. This third and last part is a book review of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird Pilot's Flight Operating Instructions manual, originally published by Lockheed and the United States Air Force (USAF), and now reprinted by Periscopefilm.com. I originally purchased this manual because I was interested in how the SR-71 was flown. There are actually quite a number of first-hand accounts from pilots and engineers that are available on this topic. However, only the flight manual goes into nuts-and-bolts detail on the operations of this unique jet aircraft.
I won't go into much detail regarding the engineering or the flight dynamics of the SR-71, as that's the primary subject of the book. To tell the truth, even after reading all of it, most of it is too technical for me to understand. Like many sim-pilots, though, I feel that a proper flight manual can really add to the realism of a complex simulator add-on like AlphaSim's SR-71. The AlphaSim designers claim that they followed the real flight manual so that their model will fly by the real specifications. To be as thorough as possible as a reviewer, I had to find and read the manual myself to verify that claim. The short answer is that yes, the AlphaSim SR-71 appears to fly by the numbers in the manual, which is awe-inspiring. However, limitations to FSX do present a few small changes to the flight plan, and all bets are off if you choose to fly the simulated Blackbird outside of its specified parameters.
INTRODUCTION: The Big Book Of The Blackbird
As I have mentioned before, there are quite a few books and stories that are available about the SR-71 Blackbird. I think only the original flight manual will give you the most technical and thorough view of what it was like to be a Blackbird pilot. On the other hand, unless you are a military jet pilot in real life, as well as a history buff, quite a lot of the information in the manual may be too technical for the casual user. I had to do a lot of background research on the topics presented in this book just to understand how the internal systems of the Blackbird were supposed to work. The Periscopefilm.com edition of the SR-71 Blackbird flight manual is large soft cover book measuring 8 ½ by 11 inches and is roughly an inch thick. It's a big book! The page total is 347 pages, although the numbering system used by the USAF makes it a bit difficult to find a page just by its number alone.
The only comment added to the original manual is a small disclaimer on the first page from Periscopefilm.com. Otherwise, the entire book is reproduced page for page from the original text. The first couple of pages are warnings that the SENIOR CROWN material within the manual is highly classified. I have to admit, that sent a chill up my spine, even though the warnings have been over-stamped with cancellations thanks to the American Freedom Of Information Act.
Operationally, the full SR-71 flight manual is broken up into eight sections (Section Ia is a sub-section of I):
I) Description and Operation of the SR-71
Ia) Operation of the SR-71B Trainer Aircraft
II) Normal (Flight) Procedures
III) Emergency Procedures
IV) Navigation and Sensor Equipment
V) Operating Limitations
VI) Flight Characteristics
VII) All-Weather Operations, and finally
VIII) Glossary with Performance Data and Index.
I must point out, regrettably, that the Periscopefilm.com version of the SR-71 manual is not the complete manual. This edition actually has only the first two sections listed above of the full manual: I (including Ia) and II. There is a lot of good information packed into these sections, and it provides exhaustive descriptions of every cockpit device the pilot can use, as well as detailed checklists and procedures for normal flight. Unless you really want to find obscure information on how to operate the SR-71 while under enemy fire over hostile territory, or the proper way to cut a flight crew out from a burning cockpit, this edition of the SR-71 manual should satisfy curiosity regarding the Blackbird. For the most part, simulating the flight of the SR-71 in FSX should mean that you want to fly the aircraft as close to a normal flight plan as you can, which in itself is no easy feat. The manual will help you do that, so long as you don't mind a lot of reading. Since FSX is not very good at simulating emergency conditions outside of a normal flight envelope, much of the information in the sections that are not included in this edition, and probably would not help a sim pilot all that much. On the other hand, if you find the first sections to be interesting reading, then you would enjoy looking at the sections that are not included in the book.
I won't go into any real detail regarding the contents of the SR-71 manual. Anybody who is interested can look at the excerpts I have presented in my review, or they can seek out more information on the Internet. I will say that the writing style is very technical and very dry. I found that having a high-quality SR-71 model on hand makes it much easier to follow what the manual says. I recommend the AlphaSim SR-71, and I can say that it was designed to stay close to the facts presented in the manual. Other SR-71 models may also be used.
People who enjoy reading technical flight manuals, aviation history buffs, Cold War spy novelists, sim pilots, and above all, enthusiasts of the SR-71 Blackbird will find this book to be a valuable addition to their library. People who want more narrative and stories regarding the Blackbird, and people who want their information to be clear, brief, and concise may be put off by the highly technical nature of this book. Fortunately, there are many excellent true accounts of what it was like to fly the SR-71, written by the pilots who flew this incredible jet. Those stories go beyond the scope of my review, but if you are interested in them, you can find them on-line or in your local library or bookstore.
One last thing; the pages of the Periscopefilm.com edition of the SR-71 flight manual are scanned copies of the real document. The text and document appear exactly as they would in the original. The quality of the typewriter-style font used throughout the manual is a little fuzzy and old-fashioned by contemporary standards. As well, the charts and diagrams were originally drawn by hand, not by a computer-assisted drafting tool. I found this to be a little surprising, but I am happy that the pages appear as they did when the manual was originally published by Lockheed and the USAF.
PERSONAL THOUGHTS: The Times, They Are A-Changin'
The simple fact that I am holding a copy of an SR-71 flight manual means that many wondrous things have happened in the world since the Blackbird blasted off from Kadena Air Force Base in Japan, headed for hostile“Redland”. The Cold War is over, and the capitalist and communist world powers have a rapprochement of sorts. We now live in an age where information may be our most valuable commodity, and where international borders are blurred by computerized communication. There used to be a fearsome cordon of secrecy around the SENIOR CROWN project. Anybody attached to the SR-71 would need special security clearances just to go and do their job. The story goes that in 1965, when the first Air Force pilots were receiving flight training on the SR-71, there existed a super-secret Blackbird cockpit simulator. We now know that the simulator consisted of two modules: a fully-detailed cockpit for the pilot and RSO (Reconnaissance Systems Officer), and a control booth for the engineers running the simulator. Link Simulations ran the simulator somewhere near their training facility in Kirkwood, New York. The actual site was kept top-secret. Legend has it that the simulator modules were housed in the back of a local grocery store, and that to find the back room, Air Force pilots had to negotiate their way past cashiers and shoppers who were totally oblivious of the secret simulator.
I can see the whole thing in my mind's eye: mysterious black finless Cadillac Fleetwood sedans that sidle up to the front curb of the local Piggly Wiggly. Tanned, clean-cut, short-haired young men in polyester-panelled polo shirts (they would expressly be denied to wear their Air Force uniforms) would jump out of the car in pairs, their eyes shaded from the bright New York summer sun by the darkest of aviators' sun glasses. Maybe they would be loudly discussing Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, even though the most casual observer could see that these drawling strangers didn't seem anything like Yankee baseball fans. Then, there's the somewhat bemused trip past the ringing cash registers (maybe the flash of a smile from one of the cashier girls) and through the aisles with tins of cat food and blue-haired elderly ladies smoking their cigarettes in housecoats and curlers. Through the double doors marked “PRIVATE”, the harsh fluorescent lighting gives way to a cozy darkness, and then there's the big back room with the large humming boxes, the Link technicians absorbed in their work, and the unsmiling armed guard with his finger on the trigger of his gun.
Well, that's a lot of imagination right there. Maybe the secret simulator was like that, maybe it wasn't. I was pleased to see some pictures of the actual SR-71 simulator on the Internet; I think NASA has it now. The cockpit is fully featured, but unlike FSX, there is no view out of the frosted window. A technician can dial a light up or down to simulate day or night conditions. Otherwise, the simulator is pure IFR (Instrument Flight Rules). The SR-71 flight manual is my link to those times. Today, it seems so easy to look up information that if I obtained the same thing thirty years ago, I might expect to be thrown in jail. For one thing, I located my manual through a basic Internet search. I found the book through Periscopefilm.com, who make it very easy to place an order on their well-organized website. That, and the book was not at all expensive. Even with just the first two sections of the SR-71 manual available in the Periscopefilm.com edition, I might only save a couple of dollars had I printed out the SR-71 manual myself, and even then, it would not be as nicely bound as the book I have now.
I like having a physical book I can hold and look at while I fly my AlphaSim SR-71 in FSX. If you don't want to pay for the book, you can find an entire SR-71 flight operations manual complete with all eight sections for free on-line. I could not believe that at first. However, with the American Freedom Of Information Act, people can see declassified military documents in the public domain. What a far cry this is from the cloak-and-dagger spycraft of a secret simulator hidden in a grocery store! So, yes, you can have the SR-71 manual for free and avoid purchasing the book. Yet I would encourage anybody with an interest in transportation and history to go take a look at the Periscopefilm.com website. They have a wide range of aircraft manuals for some of the world's greatest aircraft. As well, they feature books on trains and watercraft. They have their own library of films on DVD, including, of course, interesting material on submarines. If you ever want to buy an AVSIM enthusiast a present, this is your one-stop shopping center (presumably without a secret simulator in the back room, though)!
CONCLUSION: Executive Summary
Periscopefilm.com has published the declassified pilot's flight manual for the SR-71 Blackbird. This is a scanned soft-cover reproduction of Sections I, Ia, and II of the original document by Lockheed and the USAF. Weighing in at nearly 350 pages, it covers all of the basics of how to fly this iconic jet. The remaining sections III though VIII deal with advanced operations of the Blackbird, and are unfortunately not included in this book.
The original manual has been declassified by the US Department of Defence. This means that most of it is now in the public domain. If you like, you can search for the entire document on the Internet. I prefer the printed page, though. I did not want to print out the entire manual, and I found the price of the book to be very economical.
This is a highly technical manual. The pages were all written on typewriter, and the diagrams were drawn by hand. It's got the look and feel of a Cold War top secret document, so it isn't particularly easy reading unless you already understand the intricacies of historical military jets. If you are a history buff, a fan of the Blackbird, or interested in high-altitude espionage, then you should find this book interesting. I picked it up because I wanted to have a greater understanding of the flight systems of the SR-71 as depicted in the AlphaSim Blackbird. If you want to fly the SR-71 by the numbers, the manual will go into full detail on the topic.
THE FINAL WORD: A Note From Periscopefilm.com
When I contacted publisher about the SR-71 flight manual, they wanted to discuss the reproduction quality of their manuals. I am including one of their e-mails to me here:
"Allow me to make one comment. I know that reproduction quality can be an issue with some of our flight manuals -- and the SR-71 is a good example. It's impossible to get hold of an original copy of the flight manual for this bird, for all the reasons you might suspect. Not only were only a handful made, but they for the most part remain under lock and key. We felt the copy we were able to obtain, while far from perfect, is acceptable. It provides a unique opportunity to assess this radical aircraft from the pilot's point of view.
This concludes my three part review on the legendary SR-71 Blackbird. Here are links to my related AVSIM articles on the SR-71 and Beale Air Force Base, both released by AlphaSim.
Tell A Friend About this Review!
All Rights Reserved