Shady Lady: 1,500 Hours Flying the U-2 Spy Plane
Crécy Publishing’s biography: “Lieutenant Colonel Rick Bishop flew for over 50 years as a civilian, Army, and Air Force pilot amassing over 16,000 hours in the air. Raised in Miami, Florida his passion for aviation started with flying lessons at the age of 16 which he continued throughout his college years. Voluntarily joining the Army in 1967, he saw action in Vietnam then joined the Air Force in 1974 where he flew jets for four years until being selected to join the U-2 Program. Over the following 13 years he rose to Commander of the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron prior to further advancement preceding his early retirement in 1991. Rick then flew for American Airlines for the next 16 years. He now resides on a small farm in the rolling hills north of Ocala, Florida.”
This hard back book’s cover (and dust jacket) features the first RAMP Block 20, digital glass cockpit, being delivered to the USAF on April 16, 2002. The back cover shows a composite photograph depicting the reflection of of the U-2 pilot’s face shield and a picture of a U-2S’ no-flap landing approach. The book itself is primarily text (~280 pages) with a few photographs and drawings interspersed. Additionally, there are 32 high gloss pages with primarily vivid color pictures. I counted 36 black and white photographs, 82 color pictures, and 9 drawings.
The Lockheed U-2 first flight was achieved August 1, 1955, subsequently entering active service in 1957. The ‘Dragon Lady’ has now been served the United States for over six decades. Although its retirement is always a looming possibility due to politics, currently the USAF plans on phasing out the U-2 in favor of the RQ-4 Global Hawk in 2019. Lockheed believes the U-2 can be viable to at least 2050. I would place my bets with Lockheed, but I’m not a gambling man.
Rick Bishop has authored a fascinating in-depth look at the Lockheed U-2. What is truly unique about this U-2 book is it is a pilot’s book, written by an actual U-2 pilot. Filled with colorful humor (see page 100 below with the reference to knitting needles and 10 pound sledge hammers), this book put you in the seat of the U-2 for the pilot selection process, training, and operational sorties. Rick does spend two chapters (Kelly’s Angel and The Mystique) describing the development history of the U-2 before launching into his personal experience with the Dragon Lady. Rick received his special invite to join the U-2 program in February 1978. Keep in mind that the wash out rate was 86 to 90%. However, getting to operational status takes another eight chapters. Rick plowed up the chain of command until being faced with a Pentagon assignment. Having no desire to fly a desk, Rick served notice and began flying for American Airlines.
The Chapters include:
- Corrosion Corner and Other Misadventures
- Kelly’s Angel [Page 29]
- The Mystique
- Fighting the Dragon
- Acceptance or Not [Page 64 i}
- Unveiling Some of the Lady’s Secrets
- Dating the ‘Goat’
- First Dance with the Lady [Page 100]
- PSD – The Suit and the Ass-Kicking Chamber
- Getting High
- Spy Pilot Pimps and Other Eccentricities
- Going Operational [Page 155]
- The Dets [Page 192 xxii]
- Black Cats, Det 2
- Shoe Clerk Metamorphosis
- The Beginning of the End [Page 256 xxx]
- U-2 Unclassified General Specifications
- U-2R/TR-1 General Arrangement
- U-2C/R, TR/S Instrument Panel
- Glossary of Terms
I found one section quite interesting, Chapter 17: The Beginning of the End, where Rick Bishop was ordered to get a female U-2 pilot. Rick had already covered how difficult it was to fly the U-2 and how high the wash-out rate was. Many men did not have the physical strength to be able to control the Dragon Lady’s controls. Still, orders were orders. The first candidate arrived filled to the brim with confidence. Unfortunately, that did not translate in the ability to successfully land the U-2. The first day saw her attempt 12 landings. Most acceptance flights went downhill between the ninth and twelfth attempt. After a video review of her landings and some considerable push to give her a second chance, she saw acceptance flight trials the following day. The second chance did not improve the situation. Washing her out, only caused Rick to endure the political firestorm that followed over her perceived ‘mistreatment’. A second female candidate quickly followed. Although she struggled with the Dragon Lady, she at least was able to display progression, not making the same mistake twice. On February 8, 1990, Troy Devine would become the first female pilot to enter the U-2 training program. She would succeed and became an operation Dragon Lady pilot; one of the few.
Rick Bishop displays an incredible skill at writing. At times I felt like I was reading from some of the great science fiction authors like David Webber or Michael Crichton. No doubt this comes in part from the marvelous adventures that Rick experienced in the Dragon Lady, but a bigger part is in his talent in telling a story. This book is really hard to put down.
My thanks to Specialty Press and IPMS/USA for the chance to review this great book.