SOUTHWEST ASIA: Maj. William Gottenberg helped the Dragon Lady breathe a lot of fire lately. The over 16 year Air Force veteran and pilot recently achieved 100 combat missions in the U-2 Dragon Lady in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
“It’s a good feeling because it’s an awesome mission and the fact that I was able to have the opportunity to come out here enough to get the chance to get 100 is great,” said Major Gottenberg, a U-2 pilot with the 99th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron in Southwest Asia. “It’s the best flying job in the world as far as I’m concerned.”
Major Gottenberg joined the Air Force in 1983. He stayed on until the Persian Gulf War in 1991, then left flying his RC-135 aircraft in the military to flying Boeing 747s for a civilian airline.
“After what happened on Sept. 11 (2001), I decided to volunteer to come back on active duty,” said Major Gottenberg, who is deployed from Beale Air Force Base, Calif. “I was accepted back on active duty about a year after Sept. 11. I came back to the RC-135, flew that for three more years, and then came to U-2 and that’s what I’ve been flying ever since.”
Lt. Col. Kirt Stallings, the 99th ERS commander who is also deployed from Beale AFB, said the major’s accomplishment is just that, “a major accomplishment.”
“One hundred sorties in the U-2 is a big deal,” Colonel Stallings said to Major Gottenberg and a gathering of people immediately after the major completed his mission March 9. “A thanks from me and from everybody for your contributions not only from our aspect of the war, but also for the effort supporting the men and women downrange. You have done a lion’s share of work here so thanks very much for everything you have done.”
When he stepped down from the U-2 after his 100th combat mission, Major Gottenberg said he wasn’t expecting all the people waiting to greet and congratulate him because to him it was just another mission, “it’s about the people he’s helping on the ground.”
Also, when he’s flying at 70,000 feet on a combat mission looking at the curvature of the Earth, he’s focused on the mission of the day. When he’s “on station” at his target location, he said the focus becomes even more intense.
“Well, to be honest, the time flying goes by really quickly once I get on station and we start doing the job the U-2 does,” said Major Gottenberg, whose hometown is Rocklin, Calif. “I think the most impressive thing to me is the fact that the airplane transforms itself from a really neat flying machine into a lethal weapons system. On a combat mission, we’ll spend our whole time directly interacting with guys on the ground providing them with actionable, near real-time intelligence they use to go out and hunt bad guys with.”
“Well the awesome thing is that the U-2 is more in demand now than it was in its almost 55-year history,” Major Gottenberg said. “The airplane, as a weapons system, has evolved into this amazing thing. What’s impressive to me is to be a part of it and to watch the effort that is required to prepare the airplane, from the maintainer and life support standpoint, to get it ready to fly as consistently as it does.
“To see the worldwide effort that is required to exploit what we’re collecting on the airplane, and then to get it back to a guy on the ground literally minutes after its intercepted is amazing to me,” the major said. “In the last three to four years, the plane has revolutionized itself in how we employ it. It’s a system that takes a worldwide effort to make it happen and the guys on the ground, I know, love having us out there. That’s an added benefit to a very rewarding job.”