INT: How important was the information that you were bringing back?
MK: The U-2 provided information that was probably the most important intelligence coups that had ever been done by aerial reconnaissance, in my estimation. It proved the fact that there was no bomber gap in the early flights; and in the later years, late Fifties, it proved that there was no missile gap as well, and this information was totally unobtainable by other means.
INT: Excellent answer. Can you talk me through 1957 specifically? I mean, one of the photographs that you were involved in taking was the one over the Engels airfield base. Can you just talk me through that particular mission - what you saw and what you thought it meant, and your general feelings as you were doing it?
MK: In the earliest part of the programme, '57, again all the targets were trying to determine the existence of a bomber gap. The belief in the United States military was that the Russians had scads and scads of bombers, and in fact we were building up our air defence forces in the United States to be able to counteract that threat. One of the flights I was on, I came across the so-called Engels airfield, and much to my surprise and joy it was loaded with Bison bombers. I can't remember the exact count, but many, many; the entire field was full of Bison bombers. I knew right then that I had found that there was a bomber gap, that this had to be the most important picture ever taken by a reconnaissance pilot. I kind of expected Congressional medals of honour when I landed. However, it turned out that what I'd taken a picture of was not just a portion of the entire Russian bomber fleet, but in fact I'd taken a picture of the entire Russian fleet, and there really was no bomber gap; they were all on that airfield at the same time.
INT: Excellent answer - terrific. Can I just go back... I know you didn't write it, but in (unclear)'s book there's quite an eloquent description of what it was like to fly a U-2 so far into Russia. Could you just give me a bit more of what it was like to look down at Russia at 75,000 feet - what would you see in front of you?
MK: In flying over Russia, I personally had... maybe two comments I could make. First of all was this exhilarating feeling of "Here I am over the middle of the Evil Empire." In those days, you know, we knew nothing about Russia - we just knew, man, that was bad. And here I was, sitting over the middle of it, after all theyears I had trained as a SAC fighter pilot to go on missions in the event of nuclear war. Here I was - that's quite a f. It didn't last long, though, in a U-2, because the little U-2 was the highest workload air plane I believe ever designed and built, and your opportunities to carry on fleeting thoughts in flight are very short-lived: you're wrestling with the air plane and operating the camera systems at all times, and there's very little thought to worry about whether you're over Russia or you're flying over southern California. (Laughs) You're fully occupied at the time.
INT: Were you told much about what you were doing at the time? Did you know... apart from the things like the Engels airfield, did you know the targets that you were looking for, and why you were looking for them?
MK: Generally speaking, on our flights the pilot had no knowledge of what he was trying to prove or disprove with the acquisition of data on the film. He was given a target on a map, lines leading in, lines leading out to the next target. We just had general knowledge that in the early start of the programme we were really trying to do a count on the number of air planes they had and the various types; and then, two years later, we knew we were looking for guided missile intelligence because we would see these peculiar geographical mar...
(Interruption - Noise. A bit of non-interview chat.)
INT: OK, if I can just pick you up on that again. How much information, as a pilot, did you have, and what were you aware of in the missions that you were doing?
MK: As a pilot of one of the U-2 missions, you had very little knowledge of the intelligence value of the targets you were after. They were simply marks on a map with lines drawn that you were handed just a few hours before flight. However, in general you knew, in the early years, that they were really trying to get a count on the air force power of Russia; and then, a few years later, in thea of Sputnik, the capability of the Russian missile production and the quality of the missile production.
INT: When we talked earlier this morning, you said that one of the points was that if you were ever shot down, it was better to be dumb. Could I just get you to repeat that for me? Let me rephrase the question. Why were the pilots given so little information as to the flights that they were doing?
MK: I believe that the pilot was given minimal information on the targeting that he was after, on the basis that, you know, if you went down and didn't return, the dumber you were, the better off you were going to be and the better off the United States would be.
INT: What was supposed to happen to you if you were shot down?
MK: (Clears throat) In the event of a mishap in denied territory, all the pilots were very extensively trained on escape and evasion and survival, with the hope they could get out of the country they were in. How realistic is that, is maybe open to debate. But if captured, everyone I know was briefed to tell them everything that they knew, because they didn't know much about the targeting, they didn't know very much to tell.
INT: Good answer. There's been a lot of discussion, throughout the various books I've read, on the suicide pill, the poison needle. Was that apocryphal, or did you really carry a suicide pill?
MK: The information that's come on out in the various press media on suicide mechanisms to carry with you - pills, needles is probably true. I don't honestly remember ever carrying a pill - that may be a function of old ageasing that. I do remember the needle the needle that was embedded in a coin, kind of like the stem of a watch. I believe it was coated with curare on the end of the needle. And yes, I carried one, but it wasn't for the purpose of suicide: I thought it would make a very handy little tool in case I needed an escape from being incarcerated some place. You knew they were going to get the guns and things like that away from you, but they might just leave a coin in your pocket.
(Aircraft overhead. A bit of talk. Cut.)
INT: Could you just tell me a bit more about the coin that you used to carry?
MK: All the pilots had the option of carrying many survival and escape and evasion pieces of hardware with them on a flight, one of which was a coin with a needle in it, tipped with curare. But much has been made in the press about it as a suicide mechanism for the pilot. I don't know of any pilot that had ever planned to commit suicide in the event of capture. Some of them carried the coin, some didn't. I carried one, to use as an aggressive weapon should I be incarcerated some place, and it was my only way out, assuming that they let me keep it in my pocket.
INT: Good answer.
(Noise. B/g talk.)
INT: Martin, can you describe to me what a mission was? Where did you take off from, how far did you fly, and where did you come back to?
MK: (Clears throat) All the missions that were flown in the U-2 were always long, the maximum duration of the aircraft. They operated out of different spots. Many were flown out of Germany, many were flown out of Turkey; and getting on towards 1959 and 1960, we were actually flying missions out of Peshawar, Pakistan. The flights normally would come back to the base they originated on, but not necessarily. To maximise the range of the air plane over certain targets, the plane may, for instance, take off in Turkey and land at Pakistan, or vice versa. When I say "long", these were in the duration of probably a normal mission, eight hours. I believe the longest one I ever flew was about nine hours, and I don't think anybody flew any longer one than that, because I don't think I had any fuel left when I landed. (Laughs) I was about out.