Military Aviation

U-2 Dragon Lady Pilot relays radio messages to Civilian Pilot in Distress, helping him to find a Safe Spot for Emergency Landing near Lake Berryessa

The civilian pilot received radio assistance from Maj. Heatherman, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 Dragon Lady pilot.

A U-2 Dragon Lady pilot assisted a civilian pilot in distress, Feb. 8, 2022, near Lake Berryessa.

At approximately 9 a.m., a civilian aircraft suffered engine failure over Lake Berryessa. The civilian pilot received radio assistance from Maj. Heatherman, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS) U-2 pilot.

As explained by A1C Alexis Pentzer, 9 RW/PA, in the article U-2 pilot assists civilian aircraft in distress call, Heatherman was flying a training mission when he picked up a distress call from a civilian aircraft that was experiencing engine trouble over Lake Berryessa and was looking for a place to land.

“I was climbing to altitude on a high sortie and about 20 minutes after takeoff I heard a mayday call from a civilian aircraft that was experiencing engine trouble over Lake Berryessa and was looking for a spot to land,” Heatherman said. “I relayed this call to the supervisor of flying at Beale and to Oakland air traffic control to see if they knew about it.”

After a few minutes, Heatherman received confirmation that Travis Air Force Base (AFB) Air Traffic Control was coordinating.

“Due to the altitude of the civilian aircraft, Travis AFB was not able to hear or see them on their radar,” Heatherman said. “As a U-2 pilot, I was flying twice as high than most airliners, so I had a very good line of sight with my radios.”

Heatherman was asked to relay radio messages to the civilian aircraft. About 30 minutes after the mayday call, the California Highway Patrol reported that they found the civilian aircraft safely landed in a field near the lake.

“Thankfully the aircraft landed safely in a field with no injuries, and Maj. Heatherman then proceeded on his mission,” said Maj. Dudderar, 1st RS supervisor of flying. “It is not abnormal for pilots to offer assistance to distressed aircraft to different degrees based on the situation. There is a common bond among all pilots, whether military or civilian. We all will lend a hand if we can help in a difficult situation.”

The 99th Reconnaissance Squadron (99 RS) mission is to employ High Altitude Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance to execute effective and sustained U-2 operations globally.

The 99 RS is one of four reconnaissance squadrons assigned to the 9th Operations Group, 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale AFB, California. The 99 RS is responsible for providing critical intelligence for use by the highest levels of our government.

The U-2 provides high-altitude, all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance, day or night, in direct support of US and allied forces. It delivers critical imagery and signals intelligence to decision makers throughout all phases of conflict, including peacetime indications and warnings, low-intensity conflict, and large-scale hostilities.

U-2s are home based at the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, Beale AFB but are rotated to operational detachments worldwide. U-2 pilots are trained at Beale using five two-seat aircraft designated as TU-2S before deploying for operational missions.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. U-2S Dragon Lady “Senior Span”, 9th RW, 99th RS, 80-329

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by A1C Alexis Pentzer

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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