Osan AFB Blackcats: 40 Years of U-2 Ops
The U-2 achieved yet another historical milestone in its 60-year program history, 40 years of exceptional contributions to the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron (5RS), aka the Blackcats, whose mission is to protect the Korean peninsula while supporting all U.S. Air Force interests in the Pacific. And, what a phenomenal job it’s done. Since 1976, the 5RS has flown more than 150,000 hours with an exceptional 98 percent mission effectiveness rating.
Becoming the Blackcats
As with any good name, there are several variations on how the Blackcats came to be. One version states that at Detachment H, created in Taiwan in December 1960, flyers would frequent a nearby establishment called the Blackcat. In another version, the Blackcat name was chosen since the U-2 only flew at night during earlier missions, just like the belief that black cats only go out at night.
No matter which version you go with, Blackcats became synonymous with Detachment H.
In 1976, when Detachment H moved U-2 operations to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea (ROK), and became Detachment 2, 9th SRW, a temporary duty assignment commander, Lt Col David G. Young, formally nicknamed the squadron, the Blackcats.
The Blackcats grew into a squadron-sized unit and was re-designated, 5th Reconnaissance Squadron of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing (Beale Air Force Base, California), and Detachment 2 was deactivated. The transition was seamless and continuous operations were unaffected.
A Black Cat Named Oscar
Lt Col William R. Horton, a commander from 1977 to 1978, gave the squadron a black cat named "Oscar” as a departing gift. And so started the tradition of an actual black cat gracing the squadron’s offices and space.
Since then, several Oscars have lived with the 5RS, and throughout the years. These black cats have successfully carried out all traditional mascot responsibilities, earning a reputation throughout the U-2 world as alone, unafraid, confident and completely in control of those brash young pilots and maintainers graced by their presence. Today’s Oscars, the master and his apprentice, remain true friends and faithful supporters to all 5RS personnel.
Toward the Unknown
MSgt James MacKinley stated in The History of the Dragon Lady and the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron, The Blackcats, “‘Toward the Unknown’ speaks to the dedication of all Blackcats.”
The “Toward the Unknown” patch worn by U-2 pilot’s dates back to 1957 when Strategic Air Command formed the first military squadron to fly the U-2. The patch is a cornerstone of U-2 tradition, symbolizing the many discrete, diverse and first-time-ever missions that permeate and define the legacy of the program.
The Blackcats have experienced many firsts, including the first to bring the new U-2S model aircraft fully operational; the first unit inspected by the Air Combat Command Inspector General; and, the first unit to bring the Enhanced Moving Target Indicator on line.
In addition to conducting intelligence gathering missions, the 5RS performs humanitarian missions, including environmental concern assessments (e.g., flood damage) and surveying the Philippines after the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991.
The Blackcats received the 1995 Lockheed Advanced Development Corporation Hughes Trophy, distinguishing the unit as the best reconnaissance squadron in the 9th Reconnaissance Wing. The Blackcats were also nominated for the ROK Presidential Unit Citation, a military award for outstanding performance in defense of the ROK.
The Lockheed Martin Blackcats, the customer field service representatives (CFSRs), have forged a strong relationship with the 5RS and the local community.
CFSRs recently oversaw the planning of the Korean Security Festival, showcasing the U-2 in flight to 40,000 feet. Acting as local ambassadors, the team also devoted 550 hours and raised funds for upgrades to the local orphanage, improving the children’s quality of life.
Congratulations, 5th Reconnaissance Squadron for establishing a 40-year respectable legacy of détente in Korea while playing a critical role in maintaining global security flying U-2 missions!