Cold War Era

U-2 pilot recalls when a Soviet submarine nearly fired a nuclear torpedo at a US Navy ship almost escalating Cuban Missile Crisis into World War III

A U-2 pilot tells a scary story that took place during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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.

CLICK HERE to see The Aviation Geek Club contributor Linda Sheffield’s T-shirt designs! Linda has a personal relationship with the SR-71 because her father Butch Sheffield flew the Blackbird from test flight in 1965 until 1973. Butch’s Granddaughter’s Lisa Burroughs and Susan Miller are graphic designers. They designed most of the merchandise that is for sale on Threadless. A percentage of the profits go to Flight Test Museum at Edwards Air Force Base. This nonprofit charity is personal to the Sheffield family because they are raising money to house SR-71, #955. This was the first Blackbird that Butch Sheffield flew on Oct. 4, 1965.

In October 1962, the U-2 photographed the buildup of Soviet offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, touching off the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The fear of World War III

As a result of the Cuban Crisis the fear of World War III was on everyone’s mind. The island of Cuba just 90 miles from Florida had installed nuclear missiles capable of reaching the US.

On Oct. 23, 1962, I remember my father telling my mother to go to the commissary and buy as much food as possible. At that time we were living in Texas at Carswell Air Force Base (AFB). Dad, Butch Sheffield said as he was leaving, to fly the B-58 Hustler bomber on red alert.

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

Buddy Brown, one of only 12 men in the world that flew both of U-2 and the SR-71

Seven years later we were living at Beale AFB and Buddy Brown was our neighbor. He was one of the only 12 men in the world that flew both of U-2 and the SR-71. The following is an interview by Buddy Brown given ten years ago to Oakridger.

‘Now let me say something about that Cuban Missile Crisis. This is probably as close as this nation has ever come to being in World War III,’ Brown began. ‘When I say close, it was probably about that far from pushing a button to launch a nuclear torpedo,’ he stated, as he gestured with two of his fingers only a few inches apart.

The crew of a Soviet submarine thought that World War III had started

‘I was at a 50-year thing at George Mason University about a year ago, and they were celebrating (the 50th anniversary of) the Cuban Missile Crisis. Since I was one of the pilots, they had me talk to the group there about that. I sat next to Sergei Khrushchev — (Soviet Premier Nikita) Khrushchev’s son — who was around 30 years old during the Cuban Missile Crisis and is now a professor at Brown University. But he was telling us that the Soviets had some diesel subs inside the line there in case nuclear war started.

Buddy Brown in front of an SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3 spy plane

‘Well this one person running the submarine thought we were, in fact, at war — because they didn’t have any contact,’ Brown recalled. ‘They had a bunch of naval ships out there and, fortunately, somebody with a cooler brain stopped him from doing that — but he was about three inches from pushing and launching one of those nuclear torpedoes at one of our naval ships out there.’ He paused and stated: ‘Now that would have started it right there.’ The Soviets had, in Cuba, about sixty 1-megaton weapons that were ready to go. Cruise missiles and a few other things.’

1 MEGAton nuclear weapons

Brown concludes;

Soviet submarine B-59, forced to the surface by US Naval forces in the Caribbean near Cuba. 

‘To make a comparison, the ones that they set off during World War II at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was about 15 kt (kiloton) — now we’re talking about 1 MEGAton and they were going to use them. Well, fortunately, none of that happened and it ended up that we didn’t go to war; but it was probably the closest this nation has ever been.’

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

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, CIA and U.S. Navy

This model is available in multiple sizes from AirModels – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS.
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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