My first conscious thought was to maintain control of the aircraft. Keeping the wings level, I eased the nose down to avoid a stall and settled into the best glide speed. I pulled out a mission planning chart and saw that the nearest suitable emergency airport was Kingsley Field at Klamath Falls, Oregon, 122 miles to the west.
As I eased the airplane into a left turn, I changed the battery switch position to conserve electrical energy so I could keep the helmet faceplate defroster working, power the essential flight instruments, and ensure that I would have enough juice to lower the landing flaps.
“Seattle Center, Spicy 42, MAYDAY. I have a flameout. Heading for Kingsley. Will not transmit again to conserve electrical. Request vectors to keep Kingsley at my 12 o’clock, over.”
“Ahh, roger, Spicy 42, Seattle Center. Kingsley Field current weather scattered clouds at 1,200 feet, 3,500-foot overcast, 15 miles visibility, winds variable, 260 degrees at 10 to 12 in snow showers, altimeter 29.94.”
The situation presented three scenarios. The most attractive was that I would continue gliding toward Kingsley Field until reaching a lower altitude, where I would try to restart the engine. If I got a relight, I would return to home base.
Scenario two: Despite the clouds, I would eventually catch sight of the airfield early enough to make an emergency flameout landing. The marginal weather and the fact that I would be landing the U-2 for the first time with no chase vehicle to call out my height above the runway—customary for all U-2 pilots, not just beginners like me—made this scenario less attractive.
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…”