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The U2 Spy Plane

By 41961 WO1 (Bob) R.C. Thompson (Ret)

I recently saw the brilliant Spielberg film Bridge of Spies the true story about Francis Gary Power and his exchange of the USA held spy Rudolf Abel. Gary Power was the pilot of the U-2 Spy Aircraft that was shot down over Russia on the 1May1960. This was the first time that the world was alerted to the fact that USA had developed such an aircraft.

It is not widely known that Australia allowed the US Airforce/CIA to operate such an aircraft from here in Victoria at RAAF Station East Sale and this was years before Power’s was shot down. I worked on the U-2 at East Sale in 1954. There was one U-2 along with a crew and wireless truck that was held in a hanger just behind the Tarmac hut.

The job of the duty tarmac RAAF crews was to see the U-2 off and be there when it returned. The U-2 had two spring single leaf stands that had a jockey wheel on the end of the leaf. There were two, one under each wing/main plane that were fitted and locked in a slot under the wings. My job was after the plane was wheeled out of the hanger and the pilot was seated in the cockpit was to see one of the single leaf stands was removed and I would jump up onto the wing with my feet dangling over the leading edge of the wing, thus holding the wing down against the remaining jockey wheel being fully engaged with the ground.
The pilot would then taxi out to the run way and line the aircraft up. After going through his pre take off procedure he would nod to me and I would jump off the wing, remove the Leaf strut with jockey wheel and hold the wing tip in my hand. As the pilot increased the speed of the aircraft I would run along still holding the wing tip and as I felt the wing gather stability I would let it go. Pick up the discarded strut with jockey wheel and return to the Tarmac Hut. If I was lucky I would be sent out the tarmac tractor otherwise it was a long walk back.

Usually late afternoon I would be told that the U-2 was due in and I would grab a strut with its jockey wheel and be taken out to near the end of the strip and wait for the U-2 to land and as it got closer to the end of its landing I would run behind the wing with Strut in hand and as it was going, put the strut into its position in it’s slot under the wing and jump up onto wing and sit there as it taxied into it’s hanger where the other strut would be put into it’s location and the pilot could then dismount. I and the rest of my RAAF comrades had to sign a Secrets Act but it was only good for 20 years. I am sure of the year as I elected to take my discharge that year. It definitely was 1954.
By A23434 LAC Robert (Bob) Thompson