Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Story behind the “Sailplane”

Something curious happened one spring morning
by Ray B.

Early in the spring of 1955, I was not yet a Lockheed Missile Systems Division employee. I lived just south of the Burbank Airport, across the street from the Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery. My father was in charge of the FAA office at Lockheed Burbank at that time.

I was out in the front yard when I heard the sound of a large jet engine on the airport. I knew aircraft were limited from operating from the airport at that time. I wondered what I was hearing and seeing. I looked toward the airport to see what I was hearing taking off.

I saw what looked like a sailplane go straight up into the low cloud layer. I listened and watched until it went north, out of range of my hearing. It was an unusual bit of flying. It climbed straight up in to the clouds, then rolled out on top and went on his way. I put the incident in my memory and went on with what I was doing and to my job at Pacific Airmotive Corporation. At about 9:45 a.m., I called my father and asked him what I had seen. He said, "You know sailplanes can't go straight up," and slammed the phone down. I knew I had seen something special.

In 1955, I went to work for Lockheed, and we moved to Sunnyvale. In 1966, Mom and Dad came up to Sunnyvale for a visit, right after the Gary Powers incident. Dad asked me if I remembered the straight-up sailplane incident. I told him I did. Then he told me the story. In 1955, Kelly Johnson came to his office and asked for permission to fly the U-2 up to Palmdale in lieu of airport restrictions. The airplane was completed and ready to fly, but after considerable discussion Dad told him no. Dad told him to take the wings off, put it on a truck and ship it to Palmdale.

In lieu of Dad's decision, Kelly went back to his office, called Sammy Mason and told him to get to the airport as early as possible in the morning and fly it to Palmdale. The point is Kelly, in spite of FAA ruling, ordered Sammy to fly to Palmdale.

What was that in the sky?