1,000th pilot tames U-2 Dragon Lady

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ramon A. Adelan
  • 9th Reconnaissance Wing Public Affairs

The U-2 Dragon Lady reached a milestone in its 61 years of service Aug. 31, here, qualifying Maj. J.J., 1st Reconnaissance Squadron student pilot, as the 1,000th pilot to operate the aircraft.

J.J. completed his first solo flight to become a part of the select few who have tamed the Dragon Lady. He still has key components of the program to complete before he is a fully-qualified U-2 pilot, such as training and flying in the full-pressure suit, flying at 70,000 feet and operating the mobile chase car.

“I’m honored to be the 1,000th pilot. It's an awesome milestone for the U-2 community,” J.J. said. “At the same time, I would be grateful to be number 994 or 1,001. Being a part of this community and being counted amongst some of the best aviators in the world is a privilege. The number is a number, I haven’t done anything different than the 999 before me and will not do anything different than the ones after me.”

Beginning his career, J.J. flew different variants of the C-130 Hercules conducting airlift operations. He later looked for other opportunities and applied for the U-2 program.

“The difficulty of the program is relative, based on the varied backgrounds of each pilot,” said Maj. Carl Maymi, 1st Reconnaissance Squadron director of operations. “Pilots will find different phases of training more difficult than others, which may depend on the aircraft they’ve flown before. We benefit as a community from the diverse backgrounds of our pilots; I think this is an often overlooked component to the U-2’s constant relevance and longevity.”

To have the opportunity to fly a U-2, the applicant must be a pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces, have obtained 1200 rated flight hours or other variables depending on aircraft flown, 12 months or 400 hours as pilot in command; and have gone through the application process.

Maymi stated, on average 40 pilots apply per year, half of those are accepted into the program and generally 90 to 95 percent graduate.

The training program takes approximately nine months to complete more than 40 flights in the U-2 and T-38 Talon, 15 simulators, 10 chase car rides, survival training and other ground operations.

“I wanted to be among the best, flying one of the most challenging aircraft,” J.J. said. “There is no community like this in the Air Force; everyone is here because they want to be here.”