From the secret files of Cold War intelligence,
classified for forty years.
In the early 1950s, in close cooperation with
the RAF, USAF pilots in B-45s, America's first medium jet bomber, flew super-secret "Black
Flights" out of Sculthorpe RAF -- deep penetrations of the Soviet Union to monitor
radar and air defense systems. To prepare the way for the nuclear bombers that were
expected one day to follow. Pilots penetrated to within 100 miles of Moscow, whose lights
were visible on the horizon. None was ever shot down or intercepted -- a tribute to the expert, elite
pilots who flew a little known aircraft that never saw combat but, in retrospect, flew
missions as dangerous and important as virtually any in our country's history. (A
surviving B-45 is at Wright-Patterson AFB.)
Captain Bruce MeLeiver's Goatskin A-2 is a
private purchase jacket, presumably bought during WWII. It was rather amateurishly relined
and rezippered with a (too short!) l950s Talon. The artwork is unique for its period --
very WWII-like in execution but from the period of the "Black Flights." On the
left sleeve is an English-made bullion-on-velvet 8th AF patch.
His immaculate blue wool F-1 flight suit
displays WWII style 85th Bombardment Squadron embroidered felt and 1950s embroidered twill
47th Bombardment Group patches, as well as Capt. Meleiver's leather name tag. It is even
possible that he flew in this suit -- if captured his excuse could be pilot or mechanical
Jacket and flight suit came with a blue vinyl
B-4 bag on which is painted his B-45 as well as a map of the British Isles with Sculthorpe
RAF identified as well as additional European countries from which he evidently flew.
USAF, squadron, group and air division decals complete the B-4 artwork.
This grouping is unique and thought-provoking.
Consider: flying unarmed directly into the teeth of the Iron Curtain during the
height of Cold War tensions, probably an act of war. If captured a Soviet prison would be
your reward and probably your doom. You might even initiate World War III. Yet the threat
of war with the Soviets was so high then that Eisenhower took the risk of approving the
"Black Flights" (perhaps one of the few things that Ike ever did in his two
terms; thinking and making decisions got in the way of golf).