THE HISTORY OF THE DRAGON LADY AND THE 5TH RECONNAISSANCE SQUADRON "THE BLACKCATS"


by LtCol Charles "Chuck" Wilson and MSgt James McKinley



The need for aerial reconnaissance was perhaps first realized when the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon's adversary at Waterloo, once remarked "the most difficult part of warfare was seeing what was on the other side of the next hill." Early in the 20th Century General Werner von Fritsch, Commander- in-Chief of the German Army in World War I, predicted "The nation with the best aerial reconnaissance facilities will win the next war." Thus, the world powers soon found themselves in a race for the ultimate means of obtaining aerial reconnaissance. By 1952, the U.S. government had used existing aircraft and balloons for photo reconnaissance. In 1953, the government sought ideas on a new reconnaissance aircraft from civilian contractors. Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson, designer at the Skunk Works Division of Lockheed, submitted his proposal for a high altitude reconnaissance aircraft in March 1954. He took a F104 and made major modifications to the structure. The result was an aircraft later named the U-2. The letter U designated the aircraft as a "utility" aircraft. Eight short months later, in November 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the U-2 program.

In 1956 the term "Dragon Lady" was born with a major Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operation by the same name using the U-2. "Dragon Lady" was the name of a popular comic strip during this time that seemed to repre sent the nature of U-2. The word dragon is associated with earlier British projects to gain information about German rocket programs. Eventually, in the reconnaissance world, the term dragon was used to refer to individuals processing scientific or technical information.

On 14 December 1960, Detachment H was created in Taiwan. The "Blackcat" nickname associated with the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron was started by Detachment H. Det H flyers would frequent an establishment called the "Blackcat" in a nearby town. The name "Blackcat" soon became synonymous with the members of the U-2 Det. The original Blackcat patch was designed in 1961 by Lieutenant Colonel Chen, Whei-Shen. Lt Col Chen was shot down on 1 September 1962.

The U-2 program remained under the reigns of the CIA from 1954 until 1974 when it was turned over to the United States Air Force. The 5th Reconnaissance Squadron evolved shortly thereafter. In February 1976, personnel from the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona and the 99th SRS at operating location UA, U-Tapao Airfield Thailand, deployed to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, to establish a 90 day test program. The first TDY Commander was Colonel L. M. Kidder who was replaced in late March 1976 by Lieutenant Colonel R.B. Birkett. In pril of that year the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the 99th SRS to move from U-Tapao to Osan. In mid-May 1976, Lieutenant Colonel David G. Young arrived with the last contingent from U-Tapao and replaced Lieutenant Colonel Birkett. Shortly after his arrival, Lieutenant Colonel Young established the "Blackcat" as the Operating Location nickname. In July 1976, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry C. Sinclair arrived as the first PCS Commander. In September 1976, the 100th SRW was inactivated and OL-AO became Detachment 2 of the 9th SRW of Beale AFB, CA. During October 1994, Det 2 of the 9th RW became the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron.

The 5th Reconnaissance Squadron is a subordinate unit to the 9th Operations Group, 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California. The 5th Reconnaissance Squadron is an Air Combat Command unit at a forward operating location tasked with a real-world classified reconnaissance mission and under the operational control of United States Pacific Command. 5RS flies highly sensitive reconnaissance missions, mainly supporting US forces in Korea. These missions are santioned by the National Command Authorities thru the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There are approximately 230 men and women assigned to the 5RS. About one fourth of the squadron is composed of civilian contractors representing six corporations associated with the U-2 aircraft and means of reconnaissance. The squadron has three full time pilots and utilizes four to five TDY pilots from Beale AFB CA. The TDY pilots and Physiological Support Division personnel are on 60-75 day tours of duty. U-2 pilots spend an average of 140-180 days per year TDY at different U-2 detachments world-wide.

Since 1976, the unit has flown over 8,400 nine-hour operational sorties, utilizing an integrated suite of all-weather multi-spectral sensors. The unit has maintained an outstanding 98 percent mission effectiveness rating, despite challenging weather and a long logistics trail. Significant past events include the 1976 DMZ "tree cutting" incident. The unit provided continuous coverage of North Korea during the tense period that followed this unprovoked act by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. In telligence gathered by the U-2 helped preclude further hostile action by North Korea. Since 1976, surge operations have been conducted many times due to heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. In 1987, President Roh Tae Woo visited the detachment to honor the unit for its outstanding contribution to the security of the country. In addition to conducting intelligence gathering missions, the unit has flown humanitarian sorties to assess ROK environmental concerns, such as flood damage, and assist the Philippines in surveying the devastation caused by the Mount Pinatubo eruption.

Lieutenant Colonel William R. Horton served as the Det 2 Commander from 1977 to 1978. "Oscar," the detachment mascot (black cat), was given to all Blackcats as a departing gift from Lt Col Horton. Oscar has remained a true friend and a faithful supporter to all personnel since his arrival. Oscar went AWOL and Oscar Jr. was acquired as a replacement mascot. He has successfully carried out all traditional mascot responsibilities, and has earned a reputation throughout the U-2 world. On 1 October 1994, Detachment 2 deactivated and the Blackcats received their current designation, 5th Reconnaissance Squadron. Lieutenant Colonel Scott D. Mefford was the commander.

In 1995, Lieutenant Colonel Charles P. "Chuck" Wilson II, became the commander. During this time, the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron was the first unit to bring the new U-2S model aircraft fully operational. Lieutenant Colonel "Chuck" Wilson piloted the first ever U-2S operational mission on 20 October 1995. The unit was also the first U-2 operational unit inspected by the Air Combat Command Inspector General. Additionally, the 5RS scored in the top five percent on the 1995 Air Combat Command Quality Air Force Assessment. The 5RS was "benchmarked" by the ACC/IG in both operations and maintenance. 5RS flew the 2000th Advanced Synthetic Aperture RADAR System (ASARS) mission and was the first unit to bring the Enhanced Moving Target Indicator on line. The squadron was recipient of the 1995 Lockheed Advanced Development Corporation Hughes Trophy, distinguishing the unit as the best reconnaissance squadron. 5RS was also nominated for the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. This citation has been approved with the award yet to be presented.

The dedicated men and women of the Blackcat Squadron have sacrificed to meet every challenge of a seven day (and night) a week operation for 20 years Captain Marty McGregor gave the ultimate sacrifice on 15 January 1992 when his U-2 aircraft crashed into the Sea of Japan. His memory lives on every day as the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron remains mindful of the responsibility they bear in this volatile part of the world keeping watch on hazardous peace. The traditional U-2 pilot patch simply stating "Towards the Unknown" speaks for the dedication of all Blackcats.

The following individuals have served as commanders of this unit since 1976:

Feb - Mar 1976 Colonel L.M. Kidder
Mar - May 1976 Lieutenant Colonel R.B. Birkett
May - Jul 1976 Lieutenant Colonel David G. Young
Jul 1976 - 1977 Lieutenant Colonel Jerry C. Sinclair
1977-1978 Lieutenant Colonel William R. Horton
1978-1979 Major Gardner . Krumrey
1979-1980 Lieutenant Colonel James E. Wrenn
1980-1981 Lieutenant Colonel Donald R. Schreiber
1981-1982 Lieutenant Colonel John L. Cantwell
1982-1983 Lieutenant Colonel Charles C. Crabb
1983-1984 Lieutenant Colonel Stanley A. Rauch
1984-1985 Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Hinkle
1985-1986 Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy L. McLean
1986-1988 Lieutenant Colonel Dale O. Smith
1988-1989 Lieutenant Colonel Louis V. Campbell
1989-1990 Lieutenant Colonel Paul Roberts
1990-1992 Colonel Kenneth L. Stanford
1992-1993 Lieutenant Colonel James E. Burger
1993-1994 Lieutenant Colonel George W. Carrington
1994-1995 Lieutenant Colonel Scott D. Mefford
1995-1996 Lieutenant Colonel Charles P. "Chuck" Wilson II
1996- Lieutenant Colonel John Feda

Remarks by Wei-Bin Chang

  1. According to Wong and Pocock's book, the name "Blackcats" was chosen because U-2 usually snuck out at night, just like blackcats. Also, the two eyes of the blackcat symbolize the cameras onboard U-2.

  2. Chen was a Major when he was shot down.

  3. Chen was shot down on September 9.