dragonlady The Dragon Lady

Southwest Texas LIVE! has an awesome piece on the history of the U-2:

“Just as I got over Jose Marti Airfield at 72,000 feet, which is also known as Havana International, I looked down through the drift sight and I saw two MiGs taking off. I called GCI [Ground Control Intercept] and reported the two MiGs. They said, ‘no problem. We’ve got you covered,’” Kern says.

Then his autopilot unintentionally disengaged and his yoke stowed. The surge disrupted the airflow over his engine and it flamed out. The U-2 required a descent to 35,000 feet to facilitate a relight of the engine. So there Kern was, losing altitude, gliding, with MiGs in hot pursuit, right on top of Havana.

“I cut to the south [of Cuba] rather than to the north through that heavily defended area around Havana,” Kern says. “Meanwhile, I am trying to keep track of these MiGs. I had them in my drift sight. And I wasn’t conning [producing contrails] because my engine wasn’t on.”

When the engine flamed out, Kern lost his canopy defogging system. The canopy iced over. All he could see to navigate by was what was visible in his downward-looking drift sight. He flew a box pattern around the western shore of Cuba while descending to 35,000 feet for a relight. “I got a relight on the north shore of Cuba,” Kern recalls.

Meanwhile, Kern had called GCI again and requested fighter coverage from the Florida bases. He learned later that there was almost a mid-air collision between fighters scrambling to get their first kill of a Cuban MiG.

Kern aborted his mission and returned to McCoy. “When I got back, I quickly went to my intel briefing and I got out of there. I figured [wing commander Col. John] Des Portes was going to chew my ass. The funny thing about it is that I never heard a word about it ever,” Kern says.

I was lucky enough to get close to the U-2, ER-2, and WB-57 back in my NASA contractor days. They’re all very cool planes from both historical and aeronautical perspectives.

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