U-2 in Trou­ble

He Was on Top of the World Un­til He Wasn’t

Flight Journal - - CONTENTS - By Col. Joseph M. Gaines, USAF, Ret.

My mis­sion on Jan­uary 26, 2003, be­gan much like my pre­vi­ous 80 U-2 high­alti­tude flights: with a high-protein meal, a mis­sion brief­ing with my mo­bile of­fi­cer and su­per­vi­sor of fly­ing (both fully qual­i­fied U-2 pi­lots), a short flight phys­i­cal, suit­ing up, and two hours of breath­ing 100 per­cent oxy­gen. Weather was typ­i­cal of a Korean win­ter: low IFR (in­stru­ment flight rules) ceil­ings and cloud tops around 25,000 feet. There was light snow fore­cast for later in the day. It was Super Bowl Sun­day and only two days be­fore the Pres­i­dent’s State of the Union speech, but by the end of the day, this rou­tine mis­sion would be the top story on nearly ev­ery me­dia out­let.

(Photo by Ted Carlson/ fo­to­dy­nam­ics.net)

U-2 pi­lots must use a spe­cial pres­sur­ized David Clark flight suit due to the ex­treme op­er­a­tional al­ti­tudes in which they fly. The yel­low box is their en­vi­ron­men­tal con­trol sys­tem that goes along with them.

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