Above & Beyond: I Have a Flameout
- By Richard G. Woodhull, Jr.
- Air & Space magazine, September 2008
(Page 3 of 4)
The least attractive possibility was simply to eject and hope I could survive the winter conditions. Fearing there might be high terrain around the airfield, I decided I would eject only if I hadn’t caught sight of the field by the time the altimeter read 5,100 feet, or 1,000 feet above Kingsley Field.
As I descended toward the solid white undercast, the frigid temperatures penetrated the cockpit, numbing my hands through the pressure gloves, and formed a light frost on the metal surfaces and the inside of the canopy. Confident that Kingsley was within gliding range, I extended the landing gear to slightly increase the rate of descent. As I encountered the higher pressure of the lower altitude, the pressure suit automatically relaxed, making movement easier.
Passing through 18,000 feet, I entered the dim light of the overcast and had an unsettling sensation of time acceleration. I was descending into a wintry, hostile environment, and shortly, I’d be either landing or ejecting. The frost on the inside of the canopy now seriously impaired my ability to see out, so I used a plastic protractor-like navigation aid called a Weems Plotter as a scraper. I scratched at the frost and searched below the airplane, but saw nothing except solid clouds. It was like descending into a gigantic glass of milk. Finding the field would be a miracle.
Seattle Center (breaking up): “Spicy…2…. five miles east of Kingsley…. still.… your 12 o’clock…”
I replied that I would attempt a flameout landing at Kingsley and asked for more position advisories, but I received no further transmissions.
Conditions improved slightly between cloud decks at 12,000 feet. I removed and stowed the helmet faceplate, always a joyful moment in a U-2 flight. Because the faceplate might not reseal properly, opening it above 10,000 feet was prohibited. After six or seven hours of not being able to scratch your nose or rub your eyes, the pleasure of doing so was indescribable.
Then, a miracle. For a fleeting moment, as I passed through 11,000 feet, scraping frost and peering down, I saw, at the dark bottom of a narrow break in the clouds, a line of five blue lights. It could mean only one thing: taxiway lights at Kingsley Field.
I immediately extended the landing flaps, slowed to the proper flameout-pattern speed, and turned to the Kingsley runway heading. I held that heading for just a moment, then started a slow left turn.