The need for aerial reconnaissance was perhaps first realized when the Duke of Wellington, Napoleon's adversary at Waterloo, once remarked "the most difficult part of warfare was seeing what was on the other side of the next hill."
Early in the 20th Century Gen. Werner von Fritsch, commander-in-chief of the German Army in World War I, predicted, "The nation with the best aerial reconnaissance facilities will win the next war."
Thus, the world powers soon found themselves in a race for the ultimate means of obtaining aerial reconnaissance. By 1952, the U.S. government had used existing aircraft and balloons for photo reconnaissance. In 1953, the government sought ideas on a new reconnaissance aircraft from civilian contractors. Clarence L. (Kelly) Johnson, designer at the Skunk Works Division of Lockheed, submitted his proposal for a high altitude reconnaissance aircraft in March 1954. He took an F-104 and made major modifications to the structure. The result was an aircraft later named the U-2. The letter "U" designated the aircraft as a "utility" aircraft. Eight short months later, in November 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the U-2 program.
In 1956 the term "Dragon Lady" was born with a major Central Intelligence Agency operation by the same name using the U-2. "Dragon Lady" was the name of a popular comic strip during this time that seemed to represent the nature of U-2. The word dragon is associated with earlier British projects to gain information about German rocket programs. Eventually, in the reconnaissance world, the term dragon was used to refer to individuals processing scientific or technical information.
On Dec. 14, 1960, Detachment H was created in Taiwan. The "Blackcat" nickname associated with today's 5th Reconnaissance Squadron was started by Det. H. Det. H flyers would frequent an establishment called the "Blackcat" in a nearby town. The name "Blackcat" soon became synonymous with the members of the U-2 detachmen. The original Blackcat patch was designed in 1961 by Lt. Col. Chen, Whei-Shen. Colonel Chen was shot down on Sept. 1, 1962.
The U-2 program remained under the reigns of the CIA from 1954 until 1974, when it was turned over to the U.S. Air Force. In February 1976, personnel from the 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., and the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron at operating location UA, U-Tapao Airfield, Thailand, deployed to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, to establish a 90 day test program. The first temporary duty commander was Col. L. M. Kidder, who was replaced in late March 1976 by Lt. Col. R.B. Birkett.
In April of that year the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the 99th SRS to move from U-Tapao to Osan. In mid-May 1976, Lt. Col. David G. Young arrived with the last contingent from U-Tapao and replaced Colonel Birkett. Shortly after his arrival, Colonel Young established the "Blackcat" as the Operating Location nickname. In July 1976, Lt. Col Jerry C. Sinclair arrived as the first permanent change of station commander. In September 1976, the 100th SRW was inactivated and OL-AO became Detachment 2 of the 9th SRW of Beale AFB, Calif.
Lt. Col. William R. Horton served as the Det. 2 Commander from 1977 to 1978. "Oscar," the detachment mascot (a black cat), was given to all Blackcats as a gift from Colonel Horton. Oscar had remained a true friend and a faithful supporter to all personnel since his arrival. Oscar went missing in action in 1990 and Oscar Jr., who was acquired in 1985, assumed the duties of squadron mascot. He has successfully carried out all traditional mascot responsibilities, and has earned a reputation throughout the U-2 world.
On Oct. 1, 1994, Det. 2 deactivated and the Blackcats received their current designation, 5th Reconnaissance Squadron. The 5th RS is a subordinate unit to the 9th Operations Group, 9th Reconnaissance Wing, at Beale AFB, California. The 5th RS is an Air Combat Command unit at a forward operating location tasked with a real-world reconnaissance mission reportable to the U.S. Forces Korea, Pacific Command commander-in-chief , ACC commander, along with other national authorities through the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There are approximately 200 men and women assigned to the 5th RS. U-2 pilots spend an average of 140-180 days per year TDY at different U-2 detachments world-wide.
Since 1976, the unit has flown more than 7,000 operational sorties, utilizing an integrated suite of all-weather multi-spectral sensors. The unit has maintained an outstanding 98 percent mission effectiveness rating, despite challenging weather and a long logistics trail. Significant past events include the 1976 DMZ "tree cutting" incident in which two U.S. officers lost there lives. The unit provided continuous coverage of the area during the tense period that followed. Intelligence gathered by the U-2 helped preclude further hostilities. Since 1976, surge operations have been conducted many times due to heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. In 1987, President Noh Tae Woo visited the detachment to honor the unit for its outstanding contribution to the security of the country. In addition to its real world mission, the unit has flown humanitarian sorties to assess ROK environmental concerns, such as flood damage, and assist the Philippines in surveying the devastation caused by the Mount Pinatubo eruption.
In 1995 the 5th RS was the first unit to have the new U-2S model aircraft fully operational and on Oct. 20, 1995, Lt. Col. Charles P. Wilson II flew the first ever U-2S operational mission. The unit was also the first U-2 operational unit inspected by the Inspector General. Also, in 1995 the U-2 flew the 2000th Advanced Synthetic Aperture RADAR System mission. The squadron was the recipient of the 1995 Lockheed Advanced Development Corporation Hughes Trophy, distinguishing the unit as Best Reconnaissance Squadron in the 9th Reconnaissance Wing and was also nominated for the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. In addition, the 5th RS scored in the top five percent on the 1995 Air Combat Command Quality Air Force Assessment.
The dedicated men and women of the Blackcat Squadron have sacrificed to meet every challenge of a 24/7 operation for 20 years. Capt. Marty McGregor gave the ultimate sacrifice on Jan. 15, 1992, when his U-2 aircraft crashed into the East Sea. His memory lives on every day as the 5th RS remains mindful of the responsibility they bear in this volatile part of the world keeping watch on hazardous peace. The traditional U-2 pilot patch simply stating "Toward the Unknown" speaks for the dedication of all Blackcats past and present.