Yuba City resident Tony Bevacqua was inducted into the Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame (NAHF) last week for his service flying U-2 planes as part of his Air Force career.
In 1957, Bevacqua, at the age of 24, became the youngest pilot to fly a U-2. He trained at Area 51 and flew nuclear sampling missions for the Air Force from multiple bases. During nuclear sampling missions Bevacqua said he would fly north to south from whichever base he was stationed looking for radiation readings. If sensors on the aircraft picked up anything the plane would collect gaseous and particle samples.
In addition to nuclear sampling, Bevacqua flew photography missions for the Air Force.
He received the Distinguished Flying Cross during his time flying U-2 planes after he piloted a damaged plane back to base. He was flying back to a base in Laughlin, Texas, when there was an explosion that knocked out all the electronics on the plane. Bevacqua recalled having to wipe down his face piece in order to see because of the lack of heat in the cockpit. He had to fly down to 15,000 feet in order to have enough air pressure in the cockpit.
“I just did my job and I was glad I was able to save the aircraft,” Bevacqua said. “By saving the aircraft I saved me.”
In 1965, Bevacqua attended Air Force Command and Staff College in Alabama. He then was stationed at Beale Air Force Base where he flew SR-71 reconnaissance planes for seven years. Bevacqua said the SR-71 was significantly faster than the U-2 reaching speeds of 2,200 miles per hour and traveling 35 miles in a minute.
He spent seven years at Beale before retiring in 1973 and has lived in the area ever since.