By Rob Finfrock
As always, presentations at CJP2015 included not only valuable information and important discussions about safety; there was room for entertainment, too, including two sessions devoted to extremely interesting topics for the CJP audience.
CJP Executive Director Lt. Col. Jon “Huggy” Huggins led a spirited discussion about his experiences flying one of the U.S. military’s most mysterious aircraft, the Lockheed U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance plane.
Following fantastic responses to the presentation at CJP regional events, this marked the first time Huggy has presented the topic at a CJP annual convention. “The U-2 is the ultimate single-pilot aircraft,” he began. “Single seat, single ship, single engine.”
Huggy walked session participants through the specifications, systems and design intent of the high-flying 50+ year-old aircraft, (“it’s stealthy… in the same way a Zamboni is stealthy. So, not very”) and showed a video of him, and other U-2 pilots, recounting their experiences at the controls of the ‘Dragon Lady.’
“It started out as a platform to get a camera to high altitude,” Huggy noted. “The aircraft still excels in taking a large, 4000-lb payload to high altitude. However, the payloads have changed over the course of 50-plus years we’ve had the aircraft, from a simple wet-film camera to all kinds of stuff up there that allows us to take that data, digitize it, and run it through a datalink to the ground.”
Attendees also had the chance to sample “tube food” items used by U-2 pilots, enjoying such cuisine as Key Lime Pie and beef stew, and examine the heavy (and expensive!) flight helmet Huggy wore during his time in the service.
Huggy’s presentation was followed by an examination of the available evidence into the March 2014 disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 by science writer Jeff Wise, a frequent contributor to CNN in the months following the initial disappearance of the Boeing 777-200ER.
“We’re all aviation buffs here, and we know what it’s like to go down a rabbit hole and be really fascinated by an aviation story,” Wise told attendees. “This one is unlike any other aviation story I’ve covered, including the hold it’s had over the general public.”
Wise thoroughly detailed the circumstances of the flight for his audience; separating what relatively little factual evidence is available, from informed – and less than such – speculation and theory about what actually occurred.
He also pointed to the discovery off the coast of France this summer of a flaperon belonging to the lost jetliner, which – rather than shedding new light on the investigation, has so far only led to more unanswered questions.
“Underlying this is a story that is so technically complicated that many of the theorists haven’t been able to dig down deep into what theories actually conform to the evidence at hand,” he added. “I’m not so optimistic right now the answer to those questions will come soon.”
That doesn’t mean Wise does not also have a theory about what happened, though, particularly given the loss four months later of another Malaysian Airlines B777 shot down in airspace over Ukraine.
“My personal view is that they [also] shot this thing out of the sky,” he said of MA370. “I see it as being not just a coincidence that two of this relatively rare type of aircraft come to grief in such a short period of time.”