“Shady Lady: 1,500 hours Flying the U-2 Spy Plane” by Lt Col Rick Bishop, Crecy Publishing, UK, 2017, £18.95. Distributed in the US by Specialty Press, $24.95
If you want to know what it’s really like to fly the U-2, look no further than this book. Rick Bishop was a Dragon Lady pilot for most of the years between 1979 and 1991, ending as the 99th SRS commander. His love affair with the jet is evident from nearly every one of the 280 pages. Yes, this is a long account – but no U-2 ‘driver’ has ever chronicled his experience for public consumption in such detail before.
The chapters on how he applied, qualified, and trained to fly “one of the world’s most unconventional flying machines” should surely be required reading, for anyone who aspires to become a U-2 pilot in the future. The demanding nature of the job has been described many times before, not least in my own books. But there is no substitute for a vivid, first-person account.
Rick goes on to describe his operational deployments to Korea, Cyprus, the UK, and Florida. Although he is careful not to give away classified information, there are plenty of stories that were new to me. Challenging missions into the Arctic to monitor a Soviet Navy exercise from Mildenhall lasting up to 12 hours, made even more difficult by fog and snow at this British airbase. A ‘hot’ air sampling mission to sniff out the secrets from the last-ever nuclear test in the atmosphere, conducted by the Chinese. A complete generator failure during a functional check flight. And so on.
The author wants you to understand the tight-knit camaraderie that is generated by those who fly and support the U-2 in the US Air Force. He succeeds admirably. But in so doing, he inevitably dispels much of the mystique that has surrounded the program. For sure, some of that has anyway been dispelled, in the 26 years since he left Beale. Even so, I wonder whether this book will be well-received by everyone within the “U-2 Brotherhood.” They still enjoy being identified as a secret society…