TOP SECRET (PILLAR GARDEN) — DO NOT COPY — DO NOT TAKE ABOARD AIRCRAFT
DEBRIEF FILE - FLIGHT LIEUTENANT ██████████████████████
Interview Date: JANUARY 29 1963
Incident: Aerial reconnaissance incident recorded February 13 1962 — Operation PILLAR GARDEN
Document call number UNGOC 17u4.233
Witnessing Officer ██████████████████
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:::BEGIN INTERVIEW — IDENTIFICATIONS TRUNCATED:::
Back in 1955, Kelly Johnson said he'd sell his soul for six more inches of room in the Lockheed U2, but when the Foundation came calling, they added six feet. These planes are 90% engine and 10% camera, but the Skunkworks boys jammed a love seat in there anyway. That's just how it is with them. The Foundation, I mean. You can't bring civilians on missions that never happened, and you especially cannot fit that big camera into a two-seater Dragon Lady. But for the Foundation, the Air Force did both.
They issued the double-birds to us in 1962 when we deployed to Pakistan — we'd only been in-country for four days when they broke the news that our flights were getting passengers. Six young women in rotation, to be specific. Sure, the extra weight was a bit harder to drive, but I think stewardesses are just what our spybirds were missing. Of course they didn't tell us why.
Gotta say, the girls livened up the joint — the Lady wasn't built for two and the full camera, so quarters were nice and tight. Those flight suits are hardly revealing but fifteen hours parked eighteen inches from a real live woman is pretty damn superb even if there is an ejector seat in the way.
But I digress.
The program was hard-edged from the beginning. Cruising over the Russkis at 70,000 feet, no weapons, no concealment, and no cavalry coming when shit hits the fan - but we had done Korea, Cuba, and Edwards AFB. These instructions hardly bothered us. Glide over Russia in a hundred-foot wide tin can, why not? Carry some broad along — Even better! There may have been some dissenting opinions about letting women work the million dollar Perkin-Elmer camera, but the brass tamped all that down.
They didn't live with us, eat with us, or talk with us. It was like flying around with a shop-front mannequin. There was strictly no in-flight chit-chat, just some designated phrases — "Instance November, begin photography; Instance Oscar, prepare for descent" and stuff like that. At the end of each mission some spooks rushed whichever girl you'd flown with off in a black chopper before the engine even cooled.
All very hush-hush, Secret Squirrel bullshit — more so than the rest of what the CIA jackoffs get up to. More so than the rest of the U2 program, for that matter. These ladies were capital-S Special. I'm talking about the Special Talents, the 388th Company; fuckin' Superman and Captain Marvel too, and every other half baked idea off Jack Kirby's desk. The parascientific combat team — same jokers responsible for the stalemate on the Yalu and the whole Inchon mess.
DO NOT COPY — DO NOT TAKE ABOARD AIRCRAFT
We used to hear all sorts of things from up top about how they were going to win the war this week — a new bomb, or plane, or supersoldier. They — the Pentagon — had told us that the Sidewinder was a sure thing against the MiG too but third of the things wouldn't even launch. People said the U2 flew too high to be shot down, but they forgot to tell Lieutenant Powers. So when word went around that these girls could reach through a photograph and touch the other side, I was not tremendously impressed. Call it jaded or cynical or dumb as fuck — later on I wished I'd listened.
Sometimes on the long flights, up at 75,000 feet where I ought to have been hearing precisely nothing I heard conversations in Russian, right there in the cockpit. Sometimes it was alarms, or gunfire, or churning machinery. The ladies would chatter or mumble to themselves and you had to ignore that too. I just kept my eyes on the dials and the plane in the air.
Still, every time I heard something, every time it got weird up there, I got a feeling I hadn't felt since Edwards AFB when we were taking the X-15 up to space. When your engine kicks you in the pants with sixty thousand pounds of thrust you know you are doing something Mother Nature did not intend for you to do! Up over Russia with those silent ladies I felt it again. Like I'd peeked behind a curtain — and some big ugly thing had noticed me on the other side.
I still remember the last day of the program, every moment of it. Thirteen miles over Leningrad I hear this little pop, like a jar opening. Look over my shoulder and my cargo — Instance September was her designation — has her arm jammed half way into the loading aperture of the main cam, shoulder-deep in what is supposed to be a six inch loading slot. Orders here are clear: Ignore everything, fly the plane.
Some Russki is shouting right behind me, angry voice echoing and distorted. Ignore everything. Finally September pulls her arm out of the impossible space with an honest to god briefcase in her hand, her knuckles scratched to hell and white from squeezing. A lesser man might have crashed from pure shock — but I just said to myself, ignore it. Fly the plane. The shouting cuts off like a switch has been flicked. She's laughing, smiling. A thousand times more expressive than I've ever seen her. Seen any of them. Honestly it kinda shook me.
Fly the plane. Ignore everything. I don't say a word as we fly the five hours back home. Never saw September again after we landed; the spooks hustled her off and that was that. No more girls, no more flights, no more sunny Pakistan. But I remember what she said as we were touching down, every word of it. You could hear the crazy. Hear the loss.
She said, "I did real good today. They won't be mad anymore. They'll let me see my Iris again." Lots of stuff like that.
Me? I just ignored it. Kept flying the plane. There was something in her voice — it's like, on all those flights I'd been pushing the envelope, and that was bad enough. But September, she lived clear on the other side.
After a couple of more days we shipped back to Germany. We never learned where our passengers ended up. I still don't know who those women were. Don't wanna know. Never learning their names made it — easier. Still, I come back to it every once in a while. Whoever she was, I hope things turned out alright — for her and for Iris.
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Receiving Officer █████████████████████