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The aboriginal and alone Black woman to fly the U-2 Dragon Lady assay aircraft has a starring role in a CBS absoluteness appearance highlighting “everyday Americans” who use their concrete and brainy courage to affected challenges.
The additional division of “Tough as Nails,” which began airing Feb. 10, is far from Merryl Tengesdal’s aboriginal time testing her grit, though.
“I don’t anticipate it’s for everyone,” Tengesdal, who retired as an Air Force colonel in 2017, said in an account Monday about aerial the absorbing U-2. “I antic about the association — in a adequate way — [when I say] that you accept to be a little bit not absolutely appropriate to appetite to fly this aircraft, because it’s difficult … “You appear aback from a 10-hour mission. You’re tired. You’re sweaty. So for a lot of people, they’re like, ‘Thanks but no thanks.'”
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Tengesdal said aerial the Dragon Lady was physically ambitious in means best bodies never experience.
“You put your anatomy beneath a lot of physiological pressures that some bodies would not like to be under. The movement in the clothing is difficult. You’re not audition much, except your breathing, maybe a bit from the hum of the engine. … You’re basically sitting at Mount Everest altitudes breath 100% oxygen.”
Tengesdal hopes admirers can see for themselves the close courage that enabled her to be a avant-garde admitting all the challenges.
“A U-2 may be a single-seat aircraft, but you charge a aggregation of bodies to get you to breadth you are to be able to do the mission,” Tengesdal said. “I anticipate in ‘Tough as Nails,’ abnormally for that aggregation antagonism part, it’s actual important to accompany that accomplishment set to the table.”
In one of the latest episodes, two teams — “Dirty Hands” vs. “Savage Crew” — face off to assemblage fishing crates assimilate abstracted boats and bag clammy eels afore the alarm runs out. Tengesdal, allotment of Savage Crew, was the aggregation advance for the crate stacking challenge. Her accumulation came in second. “That’s on me,” Tengesdal says to her aggregation during the episode. “I should accept planned better, I should accept done better.”
“I anticipate one affair about actuality a adequate leader, you accept to apperceive aback to footfall forward, aback to footfall back, aback to advice out, aback to accumulate your aperture shut, aback to allege up,” Tengesdal said during the interview, absorption on her time on the show.
“I’m acquisitive that I was able to accompany a lot of that to the table, because at the end of the day, I capital to see our aggregation win.”
Tengesdal said she’d additionally capital to allay the acumen that admiral “stand about and acquaint added bodies what to do” and authenticate her alone abilities and skills.
Path to the Air Force
At first, Tengesdal wasn’t fatigued to confined in the Air Force. She saw herself as a bit added approachable than her ROTC aeon in college, but her dream was consistently to become a pilot and, later, an astronaut.
She looked into the Army’s accreditation administrator program, but again begin herself on a five-day bus cruise to San Diego, breadth she took the appropriate analysis for a pilot aperture in the Navy.
Tengesdal abounding Administrator Candidate School in the Navy and was commissioned as an blazonry afterward her graduation from the University of New Haven in Connecticut in 1994. She flew the SH-60 B Seahawk and again became a T-6 Texan II adviser pilot at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, for the Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training affairs at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.
In 2004, she cross-commissioned into the Air Force, abutting the aristocratic association of beneath than 1,000 pilots in the U-2 program.
Tengesdal, who now lives in arctic California with her family, batten with Military.com on the barriers still affecting account members, her aerodynamics acquaintance and why she concluded up ditching her astronaut aspirations. Her comments accept been edited for accuracy and brevity.
Military.com: The citizenry of changeable pilots beyond the aggressive association is small, with few Black changeable pilots. Do you anticipate there is article the Defense Department should be accomplishing to allure added Black aviators?
Tengesdal: I saw a few weeks ago that the Air Force Inspector General put out a address on ancestral disparities. So they’ve put on cardboard and accustomed that there’s some disparities. That’s a abundant aboriginal step. [Tengesdal served as the administrator of inspections for the Air Force IG in her aftermost assignment.] Added things like alteration admonishment standards, and authoritative bodies feel like aloof the way they attending is added acceptable, I anticipate is a footfall in the appropriate direction. The acumen why I say that is because aback I was in the Navy, I was aerial T-6s, and as a Black woman, it was consistently a claiming of what to do with your hair.
Keeping it accustomed was, I don’t wanna say frowned upon, but a lot of bodies didn’t do that. And I was at Randolph [for] adviser training … and I was aloof so annoyed of how my beard looked. And I said, ‘You apperceive what, I’m aloof gonna get some locks. I’m annoyed of this.’ It wasn’t in the regulations. But as a Navy actuality [at an Air Force base], I wasn’t absolutely questioned too abundant on this because they didn’t apperceive Navy rules. I was aloof so annoyed of putting chemicals in my hair. I anticipate bodies were abashed to appear up to me and catechism me.
When I activated for the U-2 program, I bethink my administrator at the time told me that [heading into the Air Force] I should accept a added bourgeois hairstyle. He was acquainted of the environment. He capital to see me do able-bodied in the interview. The aggressive has appear a continued way aback that because now, the way I abrasion my hair, there are bodies who abrasion their beard like that and it’s not a big deal. It’s aloof nice to be able to aboveboard allocution about that. It’s not perfect, [but] hopefully it will abide to advance as we move on.
Military.com: During your career, you logged added than 3,400 flight hours and added than 330 action hours beyond the assorted airframes you flew. What was the best memorable U-2 mission and one that seemed alarming or unnerving?
Tengesdal: For me, there was no alarming mission. There were times aback I was uncomfortable. Turbulence affects that aircraft absolutely a bit. If you went into abstinent turbulence, I did not absolutely acknowledge watching the wings angle the way they did. The wingspan is 104.8 feet; so aback you’re hitting turbulence, that aircraft works appealing hard. My best memorable acquaintance was my aboriginal mission over Afghanistan [in 2005]. I had aloof appear aback from Korea. I had never been over the [Middle East breadth of operations] before. Some of the articles that day resulted in some losses for insurgents, for the Taliban. So aback I came back, my administrator was appealing blessed about it, and capital to allocution a lot about it. But I mean, at that point, that was 12 hours afterwards and I aloof capital to get some sleep. Overall, I acquainted appealing adequate about what had gone on.
Military.com: What drew you to it?
Tengesdal: It reminded me of the Navy helicopter association … that capital to assignment as a aggregation and get the mission done. And, you know, the actuality that you’re aerial aloft 70,000 feet. … If there [aren’t] bodies on the International Space Station, you’re the accomplished actuality aerial that day, and I anticipation that was appealing cool.
We accept a accomplished arrangement of sensors that you could aloof bung and comedy in the aircraft agnate to the H-60. One day you’d be accomplishing a mission over the border targeting, the abutting you’re hunting subs, the abutting you’re accomplishing a search-and-rescue mission, the abutting you may be accomplishing comm[unications] advertisement for two ships. [In the U-2], it’s the aforementioned versatility, in that accustomed is not the same. That’s apparently why I don’t sit [behind] an appointment desk, right? Every day is a new challenge.
Military.com: Aftermost year, the Air Force flew an bogus intelligence arrangement on the U-2 acting as a pilot’s sidekick. What are your thoughts on this achievement?
Tengesdal: I anticipate it’s absorbing that you accept an aircraft that has been about for 60-something years, and it’s still befitting up with the latest trends, if you will. It’s a air-conditioned aircraft that is alteration with the times. And it’s consistently hasty me about what … it could do. A brace of times, they’ve capital to get rid of the U-2, but it does things that added aircraft aloof can’t. I’m appreciative to be a allotment of that ever-changing change of the U-2.
Military.com: Your ultimate ambition was to become an astronaut. What fabricated you change your path?
Tengesdal: Afterward [my assignment with the IG], I knew I apparently would not accomplish NASA at this point. So to what end am I activity to break in the military? To accretion rank? I adulation administration challenges, I adulation actuality in administration positions. But at this point, I had a four-year-old. I aloof capital to do things that my mom wasn’t able to do, and [be there] added for my kids. [Tengesdal’s son is now eight, and she additionally has a six-year-old advance babe whom she and her bedmate plan to accept this summer.]
— Oriana Pawlyk can be accomplished at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.
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