The First Black Woman To Fly a U-2 Dragon
By Moses Kamuiru.
Male dominated statistic
The U-2 Dragon is one of the most difficult aircraft to fly, soaring at heights where a few knots adjustment could mean stall or over speed and making it land is an art form all by itself. The six decades old U-2 Dragon Lady Program had been dominated by males with just eight women who had qualified to fly it except any African American woman. This was the statistic Before Merryl Tengesdal came along. Holding the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel, Merryl Tengesdal story is far from the ordinary.
Merryl Tengesdal was raised in a tough neighborhood where crime and drugs were the common career paths for the impressionable youth. Despite the numerous challenges, she excelled in her high school and went ahead to attend the University of New Haven and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. She would later join the Navy through Officer Candidate School which paved the way for her to attend naval flight school in Pensacola.
Women in combat
The US military had just begun opening more roles for women in combat in the mid-90s and combat pilot was one of the opportunities that Tengesdal deemed fit. There was also a push for minorities to attend the pilot training program. Tengesdal admits that she found the program to be racially diverse when she first joined, and she was surprised but could obviously tell that there were a few people who did not appreciate African Americans. After receiving her golden wings, she was assigned to the SH-60B Seahawk which is the Navy’s multi-role anti-submarine warfare helicopter. Col. Tengesdal set her sights even higher after years of flying off of Navy ships, at times in treacherous conditions. She proceeded to become an instructor for an undergraduate student Training Program on the T-6 Texan II. This was a joint program where she trained both Navy and Air Force pilots, and it’s here she brought to focus her incredible fixed-wing flying capabilities.
Cross commissioning Into the Air Force
In 2004 Col. Tengesdal got the rare opportunity to be cross-commissioned into the Air Force and joined the U-2 Dragon Lady spy plane program. She had passed the challenging U-2 conversion syllabus within a year and was soon flying combat missions around the world. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in aeronautical science and commands the U-2 test detachment at plant 42.She is also serving as the 9th wing inspector general, served at NORAD and was in the recent past selected for promotion to the rank of full Colonel.
Merryl Tengesdal, 9th Reconnaissance Wing inspector general and U-2 “Dragon Lady” pilot, in front of a U-2 plane Feb. 9, 2015, at Beale Air Force Base, .