Former U-2 spy plane pilot will talk about his flying days￼
Park City Library will present Frank “Fuzzy” Furr
Local Speaker Series featuring Frank “Fuzzy” Furr
- When: 6 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 7
- Where: Park City Library, 1255 Park Ave.
- Cost: Free
- Web: parkcitylibrary.org/events/month
Contrary to popular belief, the United States’ U-2 Spy Plane program did not come to a halt when Francis Gary Powers was shot down and eventually imprisoned for nearly two years in what was then called the Soviet Union in 1960.
Parkite Frank “Fuzzy” Furr should know. He flew U-2 and gathered intelligence from 1972-1984, and he will talk about his experiences as a spy plane and fighter pilot during the Local Speaker Series at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7, at the Park City Library.
“I’m honored for one thing,” Furr said about his upcoming presentation. “I like to do things like this to educate people about the intelligence activities the U.S. Government has that we can talk about.”
The U-2 program is still a vital part of the country’s intelligence gathering, according to Furr.
“Every minute of every day there’s a U-2 airborne somewhere in the world collecting vital intelligence,” he said. “It’s a very strong and very much needed program, and it’s well-supported by Congress and others.”
Although the program has come near to disbandment, it always bounces back, Furr said.
“That’s mainly because the commanders at various places where conflicts take place see how vital the collection is to them,” he said. “Right now, I think it’s funded through 2025.”
Furr’s interest in flying planes took off while he was an early teen growing up in Concord, North Carolina.
“My closest friend’s father had a grass strip and his own airplane,” he said. “One Sunday, my friend came up to me and said, ‘Dad wants to know if you want to go flying this afternoon with us.’ And that started everything.”
Furr enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) while attending North Carolina State University.
“I was in the flight division and got my pilot’s license during my junior year,” he said. “All the fraternity brothers would get some money together for gas, and I’d fly them for fun every now and then.”
After graduation, Furr ended up at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama, when Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of supporters and demonstrators from the city to the state’s capitol in Montgomery.
“I did my initial fighter pilot training at Craig,” he said. “I did well and was able to have my choice of assignments. So, I chose to fly F-102s as a fighter interceptor pilot.”
To complete his training, Furr went to Dallas, Texas, where he also received his first assignment.
“I was stationed in Germany at Hahn Air Base, which is now a commercial airport that serves the Frankfurt area,” he said.
At that time, the Vietnam War was ongoing, and Furr knew he would eventually go there, so he decided to choose what he wanted to do.
“I became a forward air controller, which means I was flying and marking targets for the fighters to come in and put bombs on,” he said. “I was part of the group flying out of Da Nang, and operating over Laos and other places that we can talk about now. And, yes, I got shot at a lot.”
After Furr decided to become a spy-plane flier, he had to train again.
“The U-2 program was and still is a volunteer-only program,” he said. “You can apply for the program through the Air Force, and they will also select people who their wing commander recommends.”
Furr participated in some intense, two-week training sessions at Beale Air Force in Marysville, California.
“The U-2 is an airplane that requires a lot of attention, and probably one out of three pilots make it through the training due to different demands,” he said. “It also comes down to whether you have ‘good hands’ and understand how the airplane reacts to you.”
Another challenge for pilots to keep with the program is the nature of assignments, Furr said.
Pilots are given temporary duties and are gone for most of the year, he said.
“A lot of times they don’t know where they are going, so it’s hard on families,” he said. “It has cost many marriages.”
One of the benefits Furr experiences while flying a U-2 is that he can’t recall anyone shooting at him.
“There were sensor indications that something was tracking my flights in the U-2, but I didn’t think I was shot at,” he said.
Furr stopped flying U-2s in 1984, but didn’t retire from the Air Force until 1992.
“I went to Omaha, Nebraska, to the Strategic Air Command headquarters, where I helped run the U-2 and SR-71 operations as a staff officer, and I ended up being the deputy director of the Strategic Reconnaissance Center,” he said. “I then finished that tour and got nominated to go to Washington, D.C. for a position within the Defense Intelligence Agency.”
While there, Furr rose to the position of the Collection Operations director, around the time the Iraq War started.
“I was involved in how we collected vital intelligence with aircrafts and satellites or whatever means for that effort,” he said. “I was the military advisor and aide to one of the Secretary of Defence positions.”
After Furr retired from the Air Force, he moved to Utah.
“I love living in Park City, because the opportunity to do things in Park City is just tremendous,” he said. “I got involved with the 2002 Olympics when it was starting up, and was part of the start team for bobsled and skeleton. I am now an international jury member, so I get to travel and help out with events. There are only three tracks left in North America — Lake Placid (New York), Whistler (British Columbia) and Park City. So, it’s vital to keep this going as strong as we can.”
Furr said there were two big rewards that came out of his flying days.
“The biggest was probably in Vietnam when I worked with the troops who were on the ground to get them protection while finding ways to get them back in safe situations,” he said. “The reward for flying a U-2 was knowing that you’re doing vital stuff every time you’d launch on an operational mission. And that somebody was giving you the responsibility to gather that stuff.”
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