Some 450 people sat down for dinner at the “ReU2nion” that took place at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino near Beale AFB on 6th-9th October. They included myself. It was organized by the Dragon Lady Association (DLA), led by the redoubtable Lt Col (retd) Jon Huggins. Prior events included a visit to Beale AFB for briefings and a BBQ at the flight line, and a poolside party.
The banquet was a glitzy affair, hosted with elan by U-2 pilots Darryl Smith (callsign “Egg”) and Matt Beaubien (“Nova”). Former pilot Ross Franquemont provided most of the visual backdrops. The guest speaker was Mike Masucci, former U-2 squadron and test pilot. “Sooch” is now a pilot with Virgin Galactic, and has co-piloted the VSS Unity into space, as well as flying White Knight 2, the launch aircraft.
Various folks were recognized. I was mentioned for my research and writing on the long history of the U-2. The hosts noted that “had it not been for Chris, many great stories would have been lost to the sands of time.” Thanks guys!
Others who were recognized included:
– Tony Bevacqua, one of the first USAF pilots to check out on the U-2 in 1957. Tony later flew the SR-71, retired to Yuba City near Beale, and became a key member of the Beale Military Liaison Committee. “He has been a strong advocate for Beale and its mission”, the hosts said. Tony celebrated his 90th birthday on the same weekend as the reunion.
– Bill Bonnichsen, the Lockheed tech rep who in 1992 helped ensure that U-2C 56-6692 was restored for display and transferred to the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, UK. In 2008, Bill’s quick response to a hydrazine fire in U-2S 80-1099 prevented destruction of the hangared aircraft. It is now being restored to flight.
– Ken Hall, whose efforts to add reservist or air national guard pilots to the U-2 ranks finally succeeded in 2021, when the employment of some civilian U-2 instructor pilots was approved. There are currently four, all former active duty U-2 drivers.
– Pat Halloran, the oldest surviving U-2 pilot at 94 years of age. Pat checked out in 1957, later flew the SR-71, and became a Major-General. Pat is still going strong! At the banquet, and according to a U-2 tradition, he was served drinks by the latest pilot to qualify (solo #1094).
– Brandon Jones, U-2 pilot from 2013 who has flown for UPS since retirement for UPS. “Brandon has made extraordinary efforts in helping former U-2 pilots that also want to begin a career at UPS,” the hosts said.
– Bruce and Karyl Marlow, local citizens who reside near Beale AFB and are honorary commanders of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron. “They have done so much to make squadron life better for everyone,” the hosts said.
– Bob Ray, U-2 pilot from 1979 who also became a classroom instructor at Beale AFB after his active duty. Bob researched and compiled the list of U-2 pilots by their solo dates. Each pilot now proudly bears his solo number. “Bob’s efforts greatly contributed to U-2 program history, as well as a very unique morale item,” the hosts noted.
– Merryl Tengesdal, the first black female U-2 pilot, who solo’d in 2004. Merryl retired as a Colonel, since when she has become a fitness instructor, author, and television star, thanks to her participation in the American reality competition series Tough As Nails.
– Bill Williams, who flew the U-2 from 1978, and later became a classroom instructor at Beale. Also known as “The Reverend”, Bill has taught every U-2 pilot for the last 25 years. He also tells great stories about the Dragon Lady, as I can testify!
– Chuck Wilson, U-2 pilot 1987 onwards, 5th RS and 4402nd RS squadron commander, and “the biggest cheerleader for the U-2 program,” said the hosts. Chuck established an emailing list that keeps hundreds of people informed about events connected with the aircraft.
A 4,000-hour certificate was presented to Greg Nelson, who first flew the Dragon Lady in 1992. “Coach” is still flying the ER-2 for NASA, and by my reckoning is only the seventh U-2 pilot to reach that milestone.
There was also a short presentation by John Clark, the recently-appointed head of the Skunk Works at Lockheed Martin.
On a personal note, the reunion was the first time since 1995 that I had seen Brandon King. He was the instructor pilot who flew me that year to above 70,000 feet in one of the two-seat U-2 training jets.
The next ReU2nion will be in 2025, to mark the 70th anniversary of the first U-2 flight.
Below are some photos, taken by myself and Angella Raisian, who is a key participant in the Flight Test Historical Foundation (FTHF) at Edwards AFB. Angella has posted more photos of the reunion events on her Facebook page.