17 September 2009

On 27 January 2000, Dee Porter, a Lockheed pilot under contract to the NASA Dryden Airborne Science program, became the first pilot to fly a Lockheed U-2 (in its NASA ER-2 version) through Russian airspace since the shootdown of Francis Gary Powers in 1960. Apprehensive about the safety of the overflight, Porter asked a Russian air defense general if the air traffic control centers and air defense systems would be notified in advance. Rather wryly, the general responded "There will not be a second incident."

Entering Russian airspace near the Finnish border, Porter was responsible for operating 17 different atmospheric experiments at various points in the route as designated by the NASA team's 250 scientists. The ER-2 was loaded with over a ton of scientific equipment for this particular mission.

At the time of the mission, Porter had 3,200 hours in the U-2, more than any other active U-2 pilot, having started his career in the U-2 with the US Air Force in 1980. During his first Arctic mission, Arctic survival instructors told him that ejection at high altitude where the ambient temperature was -83 Centigrade made survival irrelevant as he would be frozen by the time he reached the ground.

Source: 50 Years of the U-2- The Complete Illustrated History of the "Dragon Lady" by Chris Pocock. Schiffer Publishing, 2005, p380.

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