During our first refuelling north of Scotland, we were flying at 350 knots looking to rendezvous with our tanker. Walt, ever the vigilant companion, noted some airborne signals on his scope and said to look out the window and see if anyone was there. Sure enough, two Norwegian F-16 fighters had been scrambled, and were now joined on our wing as a friendly escort. An SR-71 had recently made an emergency landing in Norway and it had been quite a popular thing with the press there. Our two companions seemed to enjoy being a part of a formation that included the secret American spy plane.
This sort of meeting was unplanned and rarely occurred, although we had often seen the British Jaguars joining on us over British soil, mostly to take pictures. I knew the F-16s wouldn’t stay with us too long as our course was taking them further away from their base, and they would soon have their own fuel problems to contend with. Loaded with wing tanks, though, they stayed with us throughout our refueling, waving, taking pictures and respectfully keeping a safe distance.
Refueling complete, I came off the tanker and saw our two little chicks still hovering there around the black mother ship. As they moved in closer, I knew immediately what they wanted. Like teenagers cruising the block on Saturday night, these young NATO pilots wanted to see just what we had under the hood, and through some universal pilot signals, I knew they wanted to drag. Now the Sled, full of fuel, at 310 knots, doesn’t exactly leap off the line like a hundred yard dash sprinter, or the F-16. She was more like a quarter miler who continues to build speed more gradually, and then sustains it.
So I watched as the two Norwegians proudly lit their little ‘burners and scampered ahead in a straight line abeam us. Easing my throttles forward, I lifted them into the afterburner range, and felt the familiar push in my seat as TEB exploded in the two large afterburner sections in a plane built before anyone even conceived of an F-16. Watching engine temperatures soar, and then settle, I pushed the throttles full forward to MAX AB and watched as the airspeed indicator came alive instantly in that cold air.
I would have waved to the Norwegians, but they were just a minor blur on my window as we roared by them. Rocked by our turbulence, I could see them fall out of formation and turn homeward in my mirrors. They were probably proud to tell their mates how they had been spanked by the Blackbird. I pointed our nose toward the deep blue and let the Sled push skyward, and Walt and I settled into our routine of the more serious matters at hand."
Major Brian Shul - USAF - Sled Driver