- By Huang Shihhan
- 2 February, 2010
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At the height of the Cold War, between the 1960s and 1970s, a group of Taiwanese pilots flew US-made U-2 surveillance flights over China to gather information.
The 28 Air Force pilots were members of the secret “Black Cat Squadron”, a special division set up in 1961 through Taiwan-US military cooperation. Under the project, Washington offered aircraft and surveillance technical support, while Taipei provided logistic support and pilots.
The U-2 was considered one of the most difficult airplane to steer. It is a single-engine plane with a very light frame. Its wingspans are as wide as a basketball court, so that it can glide at very high altitude. However, the U-2 was vulnerable to fuel leaks and could easily stall, or even break apart.
In total, the Black Cat squadron flew a total of over 100 spy missions. Five U-2s were shot down by the Chinese military, with three casualties and two captures. Seven other pilots died during training or because of equipment malfunctions during missions. Within 13 years, the squadron lost 1/3 of its members.
The intelligence gathered by the Black Cat Squadron, which included evidence of a military build-up on China’s border with the Soviet Union, revealed that tensions were escalating between the two communist nations. Some people think this piece of information may have contributed to the US opening to China during the Nixon administration.
Shortly after Nixon’s visit to Beijing, all reconnaissance flights over China were ceased, and the Black Cat Squadron was officially disbanded in the spring of 1974.
Click on the icon below to listen to the February 3 edition of Time Traveler for the Black Cat Squadron’s story.
Click on the icon below to listen to a short interview with Shen Li-wen, author of a book on the Black Cat Squadron. Shen is also the daughter of a former Black Cat pilot.