Carl Jansen kept one eye on the sky outside his cockpit and one eye on his rate of climb indicator. The rate of climb was phenomenal and despite his experience and confidence in the aircraft, he had some trepidation about this mission in particular. Never before had a U.S. Air Force long range reconnaissance aircraft been tasked with spying on suspected extra-terrestrial activity. Now, Lieutenant Colonel Carl Jansen’s SR-71 Blackbird had drawn just that task.
Approaching ninety-thousand feet, Colonel Jansen leveled out and settled in for a routine flight to his target area in the remote Pacific Ocean at Mach 2.5. Stars showed through the darkness surrounding his canopy. At ninety thousand feet, the atmosphere and light conditions were more like space than the Earth’s surface. Despite his endless hours in the Blackbird, he felt alone at the very edge of space for the first time in his experience. He actually fought back a passing panic attack. What, do you suppose, brought that on, he asked himself?
Forty minutes out from his target area, his radar identified two other aircraft.
Located on either side of him, they appeared to come out of nowhere taking up formation just above and behind the SR-71. Looking over either shoulder, he could see a small dark craft with lights below it and a glow on top as though instrument lights showed through a canopy. His feeling of panic increased, but he choked it down. He was alone at the edge of space with two bogies in an unarmed spy aircraft, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it!
For the next twenty minutes, the unidentified aircraft stuck with the SR-71, while Colonel Jansen’s panic attack built like a summer thunderstorm. At twenty minutes out, the SR-71’s instruments failed. “Shit” thought Jansen, “What now?” Almost immediately though, his experience and training took over and he realized the plane was flying normally, just without instruments. He quickly ran diagnostics to no avail. His panic returned. Without instruments, he could not locate the target accurately. If he could not locate the target, he could not photograph it. If he couldn’t photograph it, his mission was a failure. The two aircraft dogging him had not moved.
“Ok, cowboys…let’s go up the elevator,” he muttered and pulled the stick back into his lap. Instantly the two tracking aircraft duplicated the move. He manually flipped the cameras on, there was no response. Great, he thought, I guess I’m lucky the plane’s still flying!” A moment later, it wasn’t.
What had been flying at ninety-thousand feet at mach 2.5 just a second before, was now parked perfectly still on a huge flat disk just at the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Jansen shook his head. There had been no sense of slowing or stopping, no sense of losing altitude…nothing! One second, the plane was flying, the next second, it was parked. What the hell?
The next second, a port opened in the flat surface and a dozen small bipedal beings scurried from the port and swarmed over the SR-71. Jansen toggled the canopy release, but nothing happened. He was trapped inside. He considered firing the ejector seat and blowing the canopy off, but decided that would probably kill him in the process. He would have to choke on his panic and wait until he could do something productive. He could hear them rustling around under the fuselage and prayed they didn’t do anything fatal.
Abruptly, the small creatures scatted back to the hatch and it closed flush into the flat surface. Almost at the same time, the SR-71 began to levitate straight up into the air, engines starting by themselves as it rose. Craning his neck, Jansen could see his two escorts still in their same positions. Looking down, the large parking platform had receded beneath the waves and he could only see a diminishing shadow. He knew the water had to be several thousand feet deep here.
The SR-71 began to move forward. Jansen tried the throttle and found the plane would accelerate under its own power. He opened the throttles and slowly pulled the stick back, the Blackbird climbing quickly and easily back toward the stars. There was an audible click, a small bump, and the two escort vessels disappeared. A few minutes later, again at ninety thousand feet and mach 2.5 the Blackbird’s instruments returned to normal…the return course already programmed into the autopilot. Jansen had a couple hours to come up with an explanation for his mission failure.
Back in the Nevada desert, technicians off loaded the film and rushed it quickly to the lab. Jansen climbed from his cockpit, grabbed a cup of coffee from the ready room and walked down the corridor toward the fight operations office to brief his boss on the mission. He took his time. He still didn’t know what to say. He knocked on his boss’ door.
“Come in!” called Colonel Ralph Hogan, Jansen’s Wing Commander.
Carl Jansen came in and saluted. Hogan’s desk phone rang.
“At ease, Carl, have a seat. Please let me get this first.” said Hogan answering the phone.
Hogan talked on the phone for a few minutes. Jansen could tell, the conversation was with the supervisor in the photo lab. Jansen’s anxiety increased. He steeled himself for an ass-reaming by his boss. After all, a mission failure like this could get him assigned to flying C-130s in Antarctica. Finally, Hogan dropped the phone on the cradle and looked at Jansen. “Interesting” he said.
“What you were going to tell me, I suppose…that you had a long boring flight to the remote Pacific just to get high quality photographs of miles of empty ocean. Sounds like a colossal intelligence screw up to me.
Jansen stared back at him and paused a moment, then, he said, “Yes, sir…that’s about the size of it, sir. It must have been intelligence FUBAR, sir. That’s the only possible explanation.”
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