Remembering U-2 Pilot Carl Overstreet

On June 1, 2016, Carl Overstreet was laid to rest amongst his fellow airmen at Arlington National Cemetery. Carl was a CIA pilot who soloed the U-2 high-altitude surveillance plane in January 1956 at the Nevada Test and Training Range at Groom Lake (also known as Area 51). He was also the first U-2 pilot to overfly Eastern Europe.

Getting His Wings

Born in Bedford County, Virginia in 1929, Carl earned a degree in civil engineering from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg. He entered the United States Air Force in December of 1949 and learned to fly the T-6 Texan, T-33 jet trainer (aka T-bird), and the F-80 Shooting Star.

In Las Vegas, Carl learned to shoot machine guns, drop dummy bombs, and fly in mock dog fights. As much fun as he was having, Carl knew the Korean War was going on. In 1951, Carl found himself in Japan flying the Shooting Star, which he enjoyed.

Carl was then assigned to Turner Air Force Base, Georgia, to fly the F-84G Thunderjet. He was also taught how to drop nuclear bombs and advanced his training in machine guns, bombs, and rockets. While stationed in Georgia, Carl flew across both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans in single seat aircraft.

In 1954 and 1955, his unit competed at the worldwide US Air Force gunnery competition at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Fellow pilots included Don Maggert, William H. McMurray, and Gary Powers. They came in 2nd place both years.

Area 51 and Secret Missions

On a rare cold winter day at Turner Air Force Base in 1954, Carl was approached by his wing commanding officer out on the tarmac. The commanding officer knew of a secret mission and wanted to know if Carl was interested. Thinking this was an opportunity to fly the F-86 Sabrejet, Carl eagerly accepted.

Carl was subjected to several physical exams, fitted for a pressure suit, and took a ride in the hypobaric chamber to test the effects of altitude on his body. Still not knowing what his mission was, he arrived at Area 51 in January 1956.

Carl thought Area 51 was the perfect setting for a cowboy – wide open spaces, very remote, secret stuff, weird airplanes, and all kinds of people passionate about aviation.

Before his first U-2 flight, Carl had visions of doing some hot pilot tricks, but soon learned that accomplishing the mission for which the aircraft was designed was asking enough.

First U-2 Operational Flight


It was while stationed at Wiesbaden Air Base, West Germany, in the summer of 1956 that Carl received word that he would fly the first operational flight of the U-2 over Eastern Europe on June 20th.

For the next year and a half, until the end of his CIA contract, Carl continued to fly missions in the U-2. In addition to flying over the Soviet Union, he also flew over the Suez Canal after Egyptian President Gamal Nasser nationalized the canal in 1956.

Photographing Cuba


After his contract with the CIA was completed in December 1957, Carl went back to the Air Force and flew the RF-101 fighter-bomber, known as the “Voodoo.” He took some of the first pictures of Castro’s Cuba in October 1962, remarking that it was a beautiful island.

Carl retired from the Air Force in 1964 as a Captain having been awarded the Soldier’s Medal, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, and three Air Medals.

Carl Overstreet died on October 28, 2015 at the age of 86.

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