Above & Beyond: I Have a Flameout

Above & Beyond: I Have a Flameout

(Lockheed Martin)
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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.

The idea of a flameout pattern is to lose half the altitude over the field during the first 180 degrees of turn, and lose the remaining altitude while completing the second 180 degrees and arriving at the runway heading again. During the descending turn in the clouds, I caught glimpses of the airfield complex, but not the runway. Then, after 270 degrees of turn, I broke out into the clear. I looked ahead and to the left, where I hoped to see the runway, but saw only trees and farms.

Then I looked farther back to the left. There it was. The approach end of the runway was fairly close, but I had overshot badly to the right.

I banked steeply left while diving slightly to maintain airspeed and avoid a stall. There was a crosswind from the left as I rolled out toward Runway 32. I crossed the threshold at five or 10 feet, but with excess airspeed. Then, more good luck. The large main landing gear made almost-imperceptible contact with the runway, providing the height-above-the-runway information that I usually received from a chase vehicle. I was able to make a normal full-stall landing. The airplane rolled to a stop on the centerline with its left wingtip skid touching the runway.

With the adrenaline still flowing, I gave hearty thanks to my instructors and their excellent training. By making a dead-stick landing, I had just qualified for the 349th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron’s exclusive Silent Birdman club.

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