A century in the sky: 99th Reconnaissance Squadron celebrates 100th anniversary at Nevada County Airport
Special to the Sun
The aerial show that might have taken western Nevada County by surprise last weekend — with sightings of several different aircraft, including a U-2 flight — was not part of a training mission of any sort, but rather a celebration of a key component of the United States Air Force with long-standing ties to the community.
The Nevada County Airport played host to a 100th anniversary celebration Saturday, honoring the formation of the 99th Reconnaissance Squadron, based at nearby Beale Air Force Base. Among the oldest in the U.S. Air Force, the unit organized as the 99th Aero Squadron on Aug. 21, 1917 at Kelly Field in Texas under the U.S. Army Air Services.
Operations began during World War I with deployment to France, providing observation intelligence to assist allied troops fighting along the Western Front. During World War II, the squadron served primarily in the Panama Canal Zone and along the Pacific Theater. From the Cold War through today, the unit has flown intelligence missions in all four corners of the world.
In its 100-year history, the squadron has utilized over 30 different aircraft types, including the retired SR-71 Blackbird and the U-2, which was officially assigned to the squadron in 1972. Their mission objective remains to employ and execute effective U-2 intelligence operations globally in support of national objectives.
Earlier this year, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Matt Nussbaum, along with U.S. Air Force Captain and U-2 Pilot Josh Bird, wanted to secure a unique environment to celebrate the Centennial of the squadron. They contacted Nevada County Airport Manager Lee Ocker, who is a retired U.S. Air Force major and 99th Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 maintenance officer, for use of the airport’s picturesque setting to honor more than 200 pilots, crew, enlisted personnel and their families.
Ocker contacted airport residents Bruce and Karyl Marlow, who facilitated the arrangements and decorated their airport hangar for the celebration.
“We are deeply grateful to Lee Ocker, the Marlow family and Nevada County at large for enabling us to conduct our Centennial Celebration here in Grass Valley,” Bird said. “We can safely say it was the best of all the anniversary events over the last five years.”
Beale Air Force Base provided a Lockheed U-2 and a Northrop T-38 for an honorary fly-by, as well as demonstration of the newest U-2 chase car at the airport.
Participation of other pilots included Steve Coutches of Hayward with his rare WWII vintage P-51H Mustang; Ken Dwelle of Grass Valley and his restored Hawker Sea Fury; U-2 pilot Brent Beck of Rocklin in his Stearman Bi-plane; along with Grass Valley residents Jim Booth and Buzz Elliott with their vintage airplanes. The event culminated into an impromptu air show that was seen and heard throughout the Grass Valley and Nevada City area.
In addition, members from the Golden Empire Flying Association and Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1175 assisted the celebration as volunteers.
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