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Hervey Stockman, First American Pilot to Fly a Spy Plane over Leningrad

Hervey Stockman Hervey Stockman (Col. USAF, retired), 88, a long-time resident of Four Hills in Albuquerque, passed away at The Montebello nursing facility on February 22, 2011. He was preceded in death in May 2008 by his wife of 64 years, Sally. Hervey Stockman, born in Englewood, NJ., leaves behind a legacy of being the first man to pilot a dedicated spy plane over Leningrad in the Soviet Union. On 4 July 1956, Harvey Stockman flew operational U-2 mission in Art #347 (#6680). Taking the Lockheed U-2 into Communist territory in the middle of the Cold War, Stockman was able to collect data on the USSR while evading MiGs trying to intercept him. Stockman also happened to be the uncle of Giz reader Willy Pell, who has graciously shared some personal anecdotes told to him by Stockman.

Hervey was one of the six pilots who successfully completed conversion onto the U-2 at The Ranch (aka Watertown Strip, later aka Groom Lake) between January and April 1956. They deployed to the UK as part of the CIA's Detachment A in early May 1956, but moved on to Germany for political reasons six weeks later. On 20 June, Carl Overstreet took off from Wiesbaden on the first operational mission, which flew over East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland. The flight went well, and served as a test for the new film and ELINT processing and exploitation arrangements that had been set up. On 2 July, pilots Jake Kratt and Glen Dunaway flew two more missions over Eastern Europe, covering a lot more territory. But the CIA was obliged to return to the White House for permission to fly over the Soviet Union itself. This was because US Air Force chief of staff Gen Nathan Twining was in Moscow as a guest of the USSR in late June. He was invited to view the annual Soviet flypast over Tushino airport, and saw a formation of three Bison long-range bombers. This was the very type that was causing concern to US strategists, who feared that the Soviets had opened up a 'bomber gap.' On 3 July there was a top-level discussion in the White House, resulting in Presidentail approval to start flying over the Soviet Union itself. Hervey was the next pilot 'in the barrel' for an operational mission, and so he was the one who headed up the Baltic Coast of East Germany and Poland and into the western USSR on the very next day - yes, US Independence Day. The rest, as they say, is history.

According to the CIA, Stockman began his career flying combat missions as an Air Force pilot in World War II. He left Princeton University to be a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps during WWII. He flew P-51 Mustangs out of England, including interdiction and air-superiority over Normandy on D-Day. After the war he went to school for industrial design and became an automotive designer for GM, attending Pratt Institute to become a designer in the Cadillac division of General Motors. But after the Cold War ramped up in the 50s, Hervey returned to active duty in the USAF, sampling the radiation debris from nuclear tests in the Pacific.

When he returned to active duty, Lockheed was finishing up work on the first purpose-built spy plane, the U-2, an aircraft capable of flying at at altitude of up to 70,000 feet while maintaining subsonic speeds. It can embark on missions lasting over eight hours. However, because of its light weight and glider-esque design, the U-2 is extremely difficult to pilot.

Because of his experience flying fighter planes (more than 65 missions), the Air Force considered Stockman a suitable candidate to carry out the first U-2 mission in Soviet territory. When Stockman embarked from West Germany on July 4, 1956, he took the U-2 over the Belarus border, passing through Poland and East Germany in the process. Once in Belarus, Stockman piloted the plane over bomber bases and naval shipyards in Minsk and Leningrad before turning the plane around and heading back to safe skies. In the process, the Soviets were able to track Stockman, but the MiG fighters were not able to locate and intercept the U-2.

Here's what Pell had to say about Stockman's flight:

The first U2 flight took place on the 4th or July which was also his birthday. He bore no U.S. markings or identification, and was ordered to eat a cyanide pill if he had to eject. The Russians had him on radar the whole length of the Soviet Union but the U-2 was too high to hit. When he landed, his fuel tank was crushed from wind (the U-2 was basically made of tinfoil), and it leaked gas all over the runway. The runway crew tried to drag him out of the plane before it caught fire and he would not move until he filled out his flight log. "I just flew the length of the Soviet Union," he said, "I'm not concerned about a leaky gas tank."

Between 1956 and 1958, he served in the first cadre of U-2 pilots in Europe and was the first American to fly over Russia on July 4, 1956. Ten years later, in Vietnam, Hervey flew F-4 Phantoms out of Da Nang, primarily in support of tactical air strikes. On June 11, 1967, he and Ron Webb, his back-seater, were captured by the North Vietnamese after their aircraft collided with another American plane over Hanoi. He was held in solitary confinement for 18 months and made friends with John McCain:

He was tortured every day by a guy they named, "Big Ug." Since he was the commanding officer, he was tortured the most. For 18 months he lived in solitary confinement and as he says, "lost his humanity." Eventually he was put back in a normal cell and some young private nursed him back to life. To remember how to read and write they made books out of t-shirts and underwear. To entertain the men he had contests to see which pilot had the highest ejection, the lowest ejection, the fastest ejection and the slowest ejection. They communicated these stats through morse code on the plumbing.

After 5 years as a POW, Hervey returned to his beloved Sally in April 1973. When he got back to the states he held no grudge against the Vietnamese. He said something like, "It was a war, what do you expect?" I think the only person he despised was Jane Fonda.

After he was released from the prison camp, he finished out his military career working for NATO and the Air Force. Following his last tour of duty in AFTEC at Kirkland AFB, he retired in 1978 with the rank of colonel to enjoy family, friends, and golf. His skill and courage have been recognized through numerous awards and commendations, including the Silver Star (twice), the Legion of Merit (twice), and the Distinguished Flying Cross (twice).Meanwhile, the Lockheed U-2 was used in CIA missions until the mid-70s and is still in use by the Air Force today.

He is survived by two brothers, Henry (Locust Valley, NY) and John (Morristown, NJ); and his sister, Pamela Proctor (Rowayton, CT). His son, Hervey, Jr. and daughter-in-law, Dyson, live in Delray Beach, FL and Baltimore, MD. He has three grandchildren, Allison, Robert, and Charles.

A Memorial Mass will be celebrated for Hervey on Wednesday, March 2, 2011 at 3:00 pm at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church 811 Guymas Pl. NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108. Private burial, with military honors, will take place at Santa Fe National Cemetery at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Hervey's name to El Rancho de las Golondrinas (www.golondrinas.org) or the charity of your choice.

Please visit our online guestbook for Hervey at RememberTheirStory.com FRENCH 10500 Lomas Blvd. NE (505) 275-3500

Last month Hervey's memories of Groom Lake were posted at:http://area51specialprojects.com/area51sp_blog/?p=195#

Rest in peace, Hervey Stockman.


Sarah Arkell Stockman (Sally), a longtime resident of Four Hills, Albuquerque, died in the early afternoon of May 7, 2008, from lung cancer. Her husband, Hervey, was at her bedside. Her last days were under the gentle care of the staff at Lovelace Hospital and the love of her extended family. All who knew her adored her. Sally was born on January 16, 1923 in Canajoharie, NY. She went to Sarah Lawrence and continued her education through avid reading. Sally enjoyed sports throughout her life. She had a longtime attachment to the game of golf as a participant and spectator. She had a deep affection for sports commentators on both sides of the pond. Our house was alive with talk of golf, baseball, and, begrudgingly, basketball. Sally had busy hands. She painted landscapes and produced award-winning embroidery in mixed media found in shops along our travels. She looked forward to her weekly bridge games. Sally loved dogs, particularly Keeshounds, a breed that she was given in Philadelphia nearly forty years ago. Philanthropy became a major activity in the last decade of her life. Sally established the Stockman Family Foundation and its support of art conservation. She delighted in the success of the foundation and the letters of thanks from the recipients, including many New Mexico art museums and conservation programs. From a small beginning, the foundation has become one of the larger art conservation supporters in the country. Sally is survived by her husband, Hervey, her son, Hervey Jr. "Peter" (Baltimore) and wife, Dyson; and three grandchildren: Allison (Washington DC), Robert (Baltimore), and Charles (Seattle).

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