(Barré) #1


he U-2, nicknamed ‘Dragon Lady’,
is steeped in intrigue – after three
separate production runs it is still
gathering intelligence more than
six decades on from its  rst  ight in 1955.
It operates in direct support of national
command authorities and was previously
 own by the CIA and later the USAF. The
work of this legendary aircraft is still mostly
top secret.
In 1976, the 99th Strategic
Reconnaissance Squadron (99th SRS)
joined the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance
Wing (9th SRW) at Beale AFB, California. It
was (at the time) the sole U-2 operational
squadron, which then had nine of the
original 12 U-2R models, a handful of U-2Cs
and a pair of U-2CT two-seat trainers. The
99th became a sister squadron to the 1st
SRS (SR-71 Blackbird) and two KC-
tanker support squadrons, the 349th and
350th Air Refueling Squadrons.

Both the 99th and 1st were unique within
the USAF in many ways. They were the only
‘selectively manned’, ‘special duty’  ying
assignments of that time. This meant that

U-2 pilots who volunteered were selected
by the squadron using protocols dictated by
the most rigorous standards. Each applicant
needed a minimum of 2,500  ying hours
with 1,500 of those as a military pilot-in-
command in two different aircraft types, and
at least 1,000 hours on jets.
A pilot’s application, containing career
officer efficiency reports,  ying evaluations,
medical records and commander’s
recommendations were scrutinised by an
acceptance board of senior U-2 pilots in
the squadron. Those who passed muster
were invited out for a challenging two-week
interview process. On arrival they underwent
intense scrutiny from the wing staff,  ying
evaluation and medical review boards as well
as the small fraternity of U-2 pilots. Only if
these face-to-face evaluations were deemed
acceptable was the applicant offered up to
three  ights in one of the two U-2CTs, to

determine their suitability for long duration
high-altitude  ights in a con ned cockpit. This
version of the aircraft was nicknamed the
‘two-headed goat’. They were fabricated from
three crashed U-2Cs with the second cockpit
placed in the camera bay (‘Q-Bay’) behind
and elevated, giving the effect of growing a
second head. The goat reference stems from
these aircraft being painted white and also
referred to the difficulty in landing the U-
which, combined with the inexperience of
new pilots, occasionally led to them ending up
in the grass beside the runway: if the aircraft
departed the runway it was common to hear
“the two-headed goat has gone grazing”!
Pilots needed to have the ability to land
the universally recognised ‘most dangerous
aircraft in the world’ on its bicycle landing
gear after stalling at exactly 2ft (0.6m) above
the runway. The interview process would be
terminated when applicants stopped showing
progression in learning this challenging task.
Only if they proved adaptable were they then
subjected to a psychological evaluation,
followed by a day-long astronaut’s physical
that could eliminate a pilot. Having run the
gauntlet successfully to this point, and with
the critical acceptance of all the U-2 pilots

determine their suitability for long duration

Lt Col Rick Bishop (ret’d) recounts his odyssey within the top-secret

world of the U-2 and his time as command offi cer of the only operational

squadron of this unusual intelligence gathering aircraft.




Aviation News incorporating Jets November 2018



Main photo: A U-2R with an ASARS II nose and
Det 2 ‘Black Cat’ logo on the tail just prior to
touching down at Osan AB in South Korea.
Peter R Foster
Inset: A 99th SRS patch worn by pilots on their
standard issue  ight suits. Author’s Archives
Free download pdf