Only years after the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis was it known that Russia-U.S. confrontations near the island were not the only threat.
We only found out 46 years that an Alaska-based U.S U2 doing a routine test for signs of nuclear testing at Novaya Zemlya
had flown off course, and flown as much as 300 miles into Russian territory.
My father had been assigned to Galena, where a small runway was maintained. When the call went out to prevent the Russians from shooting it down, Galena had the closest fighters.
Vanity Fair reported in 2008 about the near confrontation and said the jets sent to protect the U2 only had Falcon air-to-air missiles armed with nuclear warheads.
Going off course, apparently distracted by the aurora borealis, the pilot, Charles W. Maultsby,
only realized for certain that he was off course when he picked up a commercial Russian radio station. Russian military radio meanwhile was trying to trick Maultsby into flying farther into their country. He wasn’t fooled.
He decided to turn off all power-consuming devices and tried to glide as far as Alaska. The plane was so well designed for heights that it held the 70,000 altitude for at least 10 minutes.
With all the power turned off, the U2 began collecting ice. The pilot had to lick the screen to see where he was going.
It worked and two F-102s caught up with him before the Russians could. The pilots guided the U2 to a nearby, iced-over runway. The plane landed safely.
President John F. Kennedy, a war hero himself, had been meeting with his top commanders when learned about the U2 flight.
Some people in the room thought it was insane to even launch a U2 during this period.
Kennedy reacted differently. He said, “There’s always some son of a bitch who doesn’t get the word.”
Russia sent a message to Kennedy saying: “One of your planes violates our frontier during this anxious time we are both experiencing when everything has been put into combat readiness. Is it not a fact that an intruding American plane could be easily taken for a nuclear bomber, which might push us to a fateful step?”
Kennedy, for his part, rejected demands to use the overflight as a reason to start World War III.
One wonders how our new president would handle something like this?
My father, a World War 2 veteran, was stationed at Galena when this incident occurred. He never mentioned it to us and we only learned of it after he had died.
Not to defend Castro it must be noted that the U.S. tried unsuccessfully in the Bay of Pigs invasion.