An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

U-2 pilot assists civilian aircraft in distress call

  • Published
  • By A1C Alexis Pentzer
  • 9 RW/PA

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A U-2 Dragon Lady pilot assisted a civilian pilot in distress, Feb. 8, 2022, near Lake Berryessa.

At approximately 9 a.m., a civilian aircraft suffered engine failure over Lake Berryessa. The civilian pilot received radio assistance from Maj. Heatherman, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS) U-2 pilot.

Heatherman was flying a training mission when he picked up a distress call from a civilian aircraft that was experiencing engine trouble over Lake Berryessa and was looking for a place to land.

“I was climbing to altitude on a high sortie and about 20 minutes after takeoff I heard a mayday call from a civilian aircraft that was experiencing engine trouble over Lake Berryessa and was looking for a spot to land,” Heatherman said. “I relayed this call to the supervisor of flying at Beale and to Oakland air traffic control to see if they knew about it.”

After a few minutes, Heatherman received confirmation that Travis AFB Air Traffic Control was coordinating.

“Due to the altitude of the civilian aircraft, Travis AFB was not able to hear or see them on their radar,” Heatherman said. “As a U-2 pilot, I was flying twice as high than most airliners, so I had a very good line of sight with my radios.”

Heatherman was asked to relay radio messages to the civilian aircraft. About 30 minutes after the mayday call, the California Highway Patrol reported that they found the civilian aircraft safely landed in a field near the lake.

“Thankfully the aircraft landed safely in a field with no injuries, and Maj. Heatherman then proceeded on his mission,” said Maj. Dudderar, 1st RS supervisor of flying. “It is not abnormal for pilots to offer assistance to distressed aircraft to different degrees based on the situation.  There is a common bond among all pilots, whether military or civilian.  We all will lend a hand if we can help in a difficult situation.”