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Beale squadron is oldest flying unit in US military
On Monday, the Appeal-Democrat continues its coverage of the 100th anniversary of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base with profiles of a B-47 navigator, an SR-71 pilot, an SR-71 navigator and a U-2 pilot.
It's 8 a.m. as U-2 instructor pilots Maj. Chris and Lt. Col. Scott arrive on the flight line to start their preflight inspection of a T-38 Talon before making a training flight.
Instructors with the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, the two pilots, whose last names are not provided for safety and security reasons, are among those training the next generation of pilots and sensor operators for the U-2 Dragon Lady and RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Col. Phil Stewart, 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander, knows the mission well.
"They fly higher than any civilian airline, 14, 15 miles high," Stewart said.
The 1st Reconnaissance Squadron, the US military's oldest flying unit, celebrated its 100th anniversary last week at Beale Air Force Base with an open house for invited guests from the squadron's past along with local dignitaries.
Student pilot Capt. Brandon is learning to fly the U-2 and recently took a high altitude flight.
"I was the fifth highest human (at the time of the flight) because there are three people at the space station and my instructor pilot is right behind me," Brandon said.
He is only the 928th person to pilot the U-2, which has been flying for more than a half century. The U-2 and unmanned Global Hawk are designed for high altitude flight, where they can perform intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance around the globe.
"More people have Super Bowl rings than have a U-2 patch," Brandon said.
It's a small group that grows by about 24 pilots each year.
Student pilot Capt. Phillip was all smiles after parking the U-2 on the flight line following his first solo flight last month.
Friends and squadron members congratulated him with smiles, hugs and handshakes after he was presented with a U-2 patch.
"It is the hardest thing I've ever flown," Phillip said.
Lt. Col. Stephen Rodriguez, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron commander, was proud.
"He is the 930th guy to solo this jet," Rodriguez said.
The pilots can't do it alone.
The 9th Physiological Support Squadron is responsible for dressing U-2 pilots in a $250,000 full-pressure suit that keeps them safe at 80,000 feet.
Maj. Ricky and Lt. Col. Jon, seasoned pilots, are used to the routine.
A team of technicians take their vitals and tube-food order before getting them on oxygen to reduce nitrogen in their body, which helps with decompression sickness. Pilots can eat tubes of food through a long plastic straw that slips through a hole in their helmets.
Both Ricky and Jon like chicken à la king.
"I love the tube food," Brandon said while driving a chase car on the runway at 120 mph.
Chase cars are used to help U-2 pilots during takeoff and landing. The car comes up behind the U-2, matching speeds, as the aircraft descends.
"A U-2 pilot may lose sight of the runway," Brandon said. "Vision is degraded because of the pressure suit."
The driver of the chase car is in constant radio contact, letting the pilot know how close the aircraft is to the ground.
"You are trying to stall out 2 feet above the runway," Brandon said.
CONTACT David Bitton at email@example.com or 749-4796. Find him on Facebook at /ADdbitton or on Twitter at @ADdbitton.
History of the unit
March 1913 — Army's first aviation unit, 1st Aero Squadron (Provisional), is organized.
March 1916 — 1st Aero becomes the first US Army tactical aviation unit to participate in a military action when it joins the expedition against Pancho Villa in Mexico.
September 1917 — 1st Aero is the first American squadron to arrive in France during World War I.
February 1945 — 1st Aero saw its first combat of World War II when it joined a B-29 raid on a Japanese seaplane base at Moen, Truk Islands.
April 1945 — 1st Aero, its name changed to 1st Bombardment Squadron, received a Distinguished Unit Citation for an attack on Kawasaki, Japan.
April 1950 — 1st Bombardment started to receive conventional B-29s and also atomic-capable B-29MRs.
1954 — 1st Bombardment starts flying the Boeing B-47 Stratojet bombers out of Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.
June 1966 — Newly named 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron moves to Beale AFB to fly the SR-71.
September 1974 — Maj. James Sullivan, pilot and Maj. Noel Widdifield, RSO, set a record in their SR-71 from New York to London in 1 hour, 55 minutes, 42 seconds for an average speed of 1,817 mph.
September 1974 — The SR-71 crew of Capt. Harold Adams, pilot, and Maj. William Machorek, RSO, established a record for the London to Los Angeles route when they flew the 5,645 mile leg in 3 hours, 48 minutes.
March 1990 — On its final journey from California to Washington DC, where it became part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution, an SR-71 flown by the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance made the coast-to-coast trip in a record time of 68 minutes, 17 seconds — at a record speed of 2,242.48 mph.
July 1990 — Unit became the 1st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron (Training).
Today — 1st Reconnaissance Squadron is the formal training unit for the U-2, expanded only by the inclusion of the RQ-4 Global Hawk initial training requirement.
Source: 9th Reconnaissance Wing History Office at Beale Air Force Base