60th Anniversary of the U-2 & 25th Anniversary of the SR-71 Smithsonian Speed Record Flight
Thank you all for your support of the Flight Test Museum at EAFB. This year the Gathering of Eagles event had a dual theme – to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the U-2 spy plane, and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the SR-71 coast-to-coast Smithsonian flight, during which four (4) aircraft speed records were set.
The event took place on October 24th at the Hunter Pavilion at Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster, CA.
The panel of Eagles (honorees) consists of the following:
- Louis Setter, Col. (Ret.), USAF – U-2 Instructor Pilot /Test Pilot (USAF)
- Tony Bevacqua, Lt. Col. (Ret.), USAF – U-2 & SR-71 Instructor Pilot/Test Pilot (USAF)
- David Kerzie, Lt. Col. (Ret.), USAF – U-2 Chief Test Pilot (Lockheed)
- Rob “Skid” Rowe, Col. (Ret.), USAF – U-2 Chief Test Pilot (Lockheed)
- Ed Yeilding, Lt. Col. (Ret.), USAF – SR-71 Instructor Pilot/Test Pilot: Four (4) Aircraft Speed Records
Members of the panel represented the complete life span of the U-2 program – one of the most unique and longest lasting Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms in the history of US aviation. Louis Setter talked about the early days of the secret CIA U-2 program, when he participated in early flight test under the legendary C. Kelly Johnson and taught Francis Gary Powers to fly. Louis’ experience was bookended by reminiscences from the current U-2 by Rob “Skid” Rowe and Melani Austin, Lockheed Martin U-2 program director. Melani briefed the captivated audience on the aircraft’s current capabilities and the fact that, despite being 60 years old, the Dragon Lady is projected to fly well into 2045.
One member of the panel, Mr. Tony Bevacqua, was the only pilot in the room to have flown both platforms. He shared some great stories about how he ended up in the Air Force and the fact that everyone in the U-2 cadre knew Powers as “Frank” – it wasn’t until after he was shot down and the press picked up on the fact that his girlfriend (and future wife) preferred to call him Gary that he started to go by that name. Dave Kerzie, who was the 1986 recipient of the Iven C. Kinchloe Award as the industry’s Test Pilot of the Year for his work in performing extremely high-altitude flutter investigations, shared his memories of that experience. Kerzie, who had flown with co-emcee Dana Purifoy, also reminisced about the engine flameout that he experienced during a mission as Purifoy’s wingman and the rare sights you get to see while flying at altitudes of about 70,000 feet. “I’ll never forget the beautiful sight…” explained Ed Yeilding as he talked about his last flight in an SR-71 Blackbird, March 6, 1990.
“This is the reason I come to these gatherings,” said former F-16 test pilot and current Flight Test Captain at United Airlines, Joe Sobczak, who along with Research Test Pilot and Director, Safety and Mission Assurance at NASA Armstrong, Dana Purifoy, (also a former U-2 Test Pilot) shared emcee duties throughout the evening.
Foundation Trustee Jens Neelsen presented a certificate of appreciation to Dr. Keith Jamieson for a pledge of $50 thousand from the Glen and Lois Jamieson Family Fund to the Foundation’s Capital Campaign. This pledge allowed the FTHF to qualify for a $300,000 matching grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Chairwoman Lisa Gray stated “I am very pleased to announce we have now raised enough money to break ground outside the gates of Edwards AFB. We have initiated the offer of gift to the United States Air Force, the first tangible step toward building the new museum.”
Appreciating the stratospheric environment the pilots endured, Art Thompson of Sage Cheshire (builder of the Red Bull Stratos capsule) and FTHF Board 1st Vice Chairman, designed and built the unique water jet and metal break centerpieces that were auctioned amongst guests at each table. You can see a photo of one of the centerpieces in this photo album.
Thank you again for your past and future support of the museum!
All of the proceeds from this event will be used to support the Air Force Flight Test Museum at Edwards AFB and the Blackbird Airpark in Palmdale. Proceeds will be used for repair and restoration of the aircraft in the museum’s inventory, as well as moving the main museum outside the West gate, to make it accessible to the general public.
“Photos are courtesy of:
– Bill Casale
– Bill Simone
– Harlis Brend”
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