Our View: Saluting those serving in the sky
Pilots with the 1st Aero Squadron who 100 years ago climbed into fabric-covered bi-planes would have been quite the visionaries to have imagined what their unit would become.
Those pilots, readying themselves to take to the skies in their "Jennys" in 1913, would hardly have linked themselves with today's U-2 spy plane flyers who soar above 80,000 feet — more than 15 miles high; up where you can see the curvature of the planet; up where you need a special suit to survive.
Pilots of that era were flying just above the trees and up over the hills, patrolling the border with Mexico.
100 years of service
Present-day pilots, navigators and other personnel connected with the Beale Air Force Base unit, looked back at those Jenny pilots with appreciation at last week's centennial celebration for the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron.
"We're standing on the shoulders of giants," Lt. Col. Stephen Rodriguez, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron commander told the Appeal-Democrat. He noted there have been many great people who have been members of the 1st during the past 100 years.
That greatness isn't limited to the past. And those giant shoulders are getting wider with each generation of airmen connected with the oldest flying unit in the military.
The names and missions of the unit have changed, but its contributions to American defense have been consistent over the past 100 years.
From taking part in the effort to bring Mexican bandit Pancho Villa to justice in 1916 to doing air reconnaissance above the clouds today, the personnel of the 1st Reconnaissance are America's eyes in the skies around the globe.
Congratulations to the longstanding service to America and thanks for helping keep us safe from those who would do us harm. It's hard to say what the world would be like today, without the services of the 1st.
Stories from 80,000 feet
Appeal-Democrat reporter/photographer David Bitton's packages last Sunday and Monday gave us an up-close glimpse of what most Americans rarely think about, let alone view.
The Air Force, by necessity, doesn't publicize a lot of information about the reconnaissance programs or personnel or aircrafts and equipment. What we do get to see through opportunities like we had during centennial observations is awe-inspiring. We're also awe-struck by the stories of the pilots and personnel that Bitton recorded:
• Capt. Brandon, a student pilot, driving a chase car at about 120 mph to help a U-2 pilot land safely, while talking about eating chicken à la king through a plastic straw.
• The description of members of the 9th Physiological Support Squadron dressing pilots in $250,000 pressure suits to keep them safe while flying at 80,000 feet.
• Retired Lt. Col. Tony Bevacqua outrunning the first known surface-to-air missile fired at an SR-71 over North Vietnam.
• Lt. Col. Scott helping ground units from 70,000 feet over Afghanistan.
• Retired Lt. Col. Mort Jarvis pulling the D-ring with great deliberation to release the parachute after having to eject at 15,000 feet.
• Retired Lt. Col. Tom Casey being at the ready in a B-47, armed with nuclear bombs during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.