The urban legend of the brown bag with $30 million in cash delivered to Kelly Johnson to pay for the first six CIA U-2 spy planes

The weird story of when Kelly Johnson received a bag with $30 million in cash to pay for the first six CIA U-2 spy planes

By Linda Sheffield Miller
Feb 10 2023
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The guy has on a fedora and a trench coat with a pink carnation in the lapel. Johnson says he goes over and sits down and the guy just stares at him for about a minute. Then he says “we will take six for 30 million.”

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David Peters is a SR 71 pilot who was excepted to the program in 1976 he flew until 1986 when he retired. He is originally from Tacoma, Washington. When he first saw the SR 71 it was 1967, he was flying the F-4’s had a fuel problem and had to land at Navy Fallon in Nevada. It was there that he saw something he had never seen before. An SR 71, it just so happened that John Storie and George Bull (both SR 71 pilots) where flying the” B “model and also had a fuel problem and had to land. Dave said to his backseater, “Someday I’m going to fly that plane.”

The following is a very interesting story that Dave told me that I just have to share.

Built in complete secrecy by Kelly Johnson and the Lockheed Skunk Works, the original U-2A first flew in August 1955. Early flights over the Soviet Union in the late 1950s provided the president and other US decision makers with key intelligence on Soviet military capability. In October 1962, the U-2 photographed the buildup of Soviet offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, touching off the Cuban Missile Crisis. In more recent times, the U-2 has provided intelligence during operations in Korea, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. When requested, the U-2 also provides peacetime reconnaissance in support of disaster relief from floods, earthquakes, and forest fires as well as search and rescue operations.

The U-2R, first flown in 1967, was 40 percent larger and more capable than the original aircraft. A tactical reconnaissance version, the TR-1A, first flew in August 1981 and was structurally identical to the U-2R. The last U-2 and TR-1 aircraft were delivered in October 1989; in 1992 all TR-1s and U-2s were designated as U-2Rs. Since 1994, $1.7 billion has been invested to modernize the U-2 airframe and sensors. These upgrades also included the transition to the GE F118-101 engine which resulted in the re-designation of all Air Force U-2 aircraft to the U-2S.

The urban legend of the brown bag with $30 million in cash delivered to Kelly Johnson to pay for the first six CIA U-2 spy planes
David Peters in SR-71’s cockpit

There’s an urban legend surrounding the contract for the first six U-2s purchased by CIA.

Kelly Johnson was at his office and got a call from the CIA. He was told to meet a man at a certain restaurant in downtown Georgetown. They said he would be in the back and he would have a pink carnation one his lapel. They gave him a date and time. So, Johnson showed up and sure enough there is a shady looking character sitting in booth in the back.

The guy has on a fedora and a trench coat with a pink carnation in the lapel.

So, Johnson says he goes over and sits down and the guy just stares at him for about a minute. Then he says “we will take six for 30 million.” They just stare at each other then Johnson feels something against his leg and looks down. There is a large brown paper bag under the table and when he looks up the guy is gone. So, he looks in the bag and is bundles of 100,000 dollar bills. Johnson said his first thought was “Kelly you’re a*s is dead.” Downtown Georgetown (Washington DC) brown bag with 30 million in cash.

Above: Initial U-2 testing was done at a remote dry lake in Nevada nicknamed “The Ranch.” Disassembled aircraft were airlifted in pieces from Lockheed’s Burbank, Calif., plant to the Ranch and assembled there. Note that these CIA aircraft carry fictional National Advisory Council for Aeronautics (NACA) insignia and numbers. Top image: Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, chief designer at Lockheed’s secret “Skunk Works” facility, initially designed the U-2 around the F-104 Starfighter fuselage. 

The CIA Director was the only federal government employee who can spend unvouchered Government money.

Peters recalls; ‘I obviously can’t prove the story but Kelly told it to me when I was just starting the program. He and Bill Parks were there for a ceremony dedicating Kelly Johnson Street at Beale. My backseater Ed Bethart and I were assigned to escort them. The only time he was under control was the actual ceremony. So, Ed and I had the unbelievable pleasure of escorting them anywhere Kelly wanted to go for about nine hours. The majority of that time the four of us alone.’

Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Facebook Page Born into the Wilde Blue Yonder for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and David Peters

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Linda Sheffield Miller

Linda Sheffield Miller

Grew up at Beale Air Force Base, California. I am a Habubrat. Graduated from North Dakota State University. Former Public School Substitute Teacher, (all subjects all grades). Member of the DAR (Daughters of the Revolutionary War). I am interested in History, especially the history of SR-71. Married, Mother of three wonderful daughters and four extremely handsome grandsons. I live near Washington, DC.

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  1. me says:

    Try proofreading your articles. A mistake here or there is one thing, but this was just flat out painful to read.

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