Dragon Lady

1 May 1960 is the anniversary of Francis Gary Powers being shot down somewhere over the Soviet Union in his U-2A  by what I call a SAM-2  and everyone else calls an S-75. I assumed the event took place earlier in the year and have to thank my regular engagements with Bryan Swopes’ blog for reminding me.   Funnily enough I mentioned the U-2 incident to my American History class last week.  Every so often I get close to an anniversary like this, but mostly it’s coincidence.   In March 2014 I happened to hit the 70th Anniversary of the “Great Escape” and subjected my class to a few minutes of Steve McQueen and Richard Attenborough.

The engine of the downed American Lockheed U-2

The engine of the downed American Lockheed U-2 plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers on view in Gorky Park. (RIA Novosti archive, image #35173 / Chernov / CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

I had a quick riffle through the pages of Wikipedia to find a Public Domain picture of an original U-2 and read briefly that another U-2 was shot down during the Cuban Missile Crisis.   I didn’t managed to teach that part and will have to look it up.   I will also have refresh myself on the clandestine overflights that were carried out by Canberras and RB-45s flown by RAF aircrews (and the RB-45s had RAF markings) a few years previously.

Lockheed U-2A

Lockheed U-2A at the National Museum of the US Air Force

Many years ago I saw a TR-2 (I think it was)  derivative of the U-2 climbing out of RAF Alconbury  and watched as best I could while I was driving down the M11 Motorway at the time. I believe I did see the NMUSAF example (basking in the sun in the picture above)  at Dayton some years ago.   I’m looking forward to going again sometime soon.

This Day in History – 14th February

This Day in History – 14th February

Anthony W. "Tony" LeVier (February 14, 1913 – February 6, 1998)

Anthony W. “Tony” LeVier (February 14, 1913 – February 6, 1998)

I just wondered what might have happened on Valentine’s Day so I looked at This Day in Aviation.  I was rather happy with the results as I got another link to another article about which I’d already written.   You know how I like connections. On this day in 1913, Anthony W. “Tony” LeVier  was born.  Tony LeVier (February 14, 1913 – February 6, 1998) was an air racer and test pilot for the Lockheed Corporation from the 1940s to the 1970s, says the “W” website. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_LeVier

I happened to notice that LeVier flew the XP-80 (see the earlier article about XP-80A, 44-83020 Lulu-Belle elsewhere in this blog)  but it’s a little better than that. According to This Day In Aviation,  Lulu-Belle was first flown by LeVier at Muroc Army Air Field (now  Edwards AFB)  on 8 January,  1944.

As a test pilot for Lockheed, LeVier was also involved with one of my favorite aircraft of the 50s and 60s, the F-104.  I can’t describe why I like it, and certainly in the “missile with a man in it” competition, my heart also belongs to the English Electric Lightning,  (and having said that, I feel another article may be on the way) but the polished silver F-104s with bright USAF markings and heraldry appeal to some part of my aesthetic sense. I’m sorry I never managed to get a big F-104 model from my local Walmart when they were on sale.  Actually I never saw them in my local Walmart.

Here’s Tony LeVier pictured on the XF-104 53-7786

Tony LeVier with the XF-104

Tony LeVier with the XF-104 53-7786 – USAF Photograph

And (below) here is the beast in its element.  I have no idea who’s flying it in this picture but no doubt I will find out.

Lockheed XF-104

Lockheed XF-104 53-7786 – USAF

Another couple of F-104 snippets courtesy of “This Day” author Byron Swopes.  XF-104 53-7786 was destroyed on 11 July,  1957 when the vertical fin was ripped off by uncontrollable flutter. The pilot (not LeVier on this occasion) ejected safely.  Tony LeVier died at the age of 84 on February 6, 1998, having  survived eight crashes and one mid-air collision in his flying career.  Today’s post is dedicated to his memory.