February 1, 2019

Lockheed Martin pilot reaches 1000 hours in U-2

Linda KC Reynolds
staff writer

Ready for take-off: Ed “KTOWN” Knouse gets ready to hit the sky in his Pietenpol Air Camper during a Plane Crazy event at the Mojave Air and Space Park. Knouse plans on flying his Pietenpol to Oshkosh, Wisc., this summer. He recently hit 1,000 hours flying Lockheed Martin’s U-2 “Dragon Lady” and has more than 3,400 hours in 14 different aircraft.

Ed “KTOWN” Knouse, 56, achieved the 1,000-hour milestone in the U-2 “Dragon Lady” while flying a high-altitude, test mission in the early morning hours of Nov. 28, 2018.

The aircraft is capable of flying at over 70,000 feet.

A typical operational reconnaissance mission may last ten plus hours and can cover more than 3,000 miles, gathering vital intelligence. “When you’re operational, every mission is real world — we are collecting the critical information needed to protect our warfighters. With test missions we strive to provide the war fighter with the most cutting edge, quality aircraft to perform that mission,” said Knouse.

Knouse, or KTOWN, as he prefers to be called, likens flying the U-2 to sitting in a car for nine hours while wearing a snowmobile suit, thick gloves, heavy boots and a fishbowl over your head, then jumping onto your bicycle with a 2x10x12 on the handle bars and pedaling 100 yards. “And all the while not being able to scratch your nose — but the view is absolutely spectacular!” he explained.

When Kelly Johnson designed the U-2, he designed it to fly optimally at high altitude. That same design makes it a real handful to fly in turbulence, at low altitude and in particular in the pattern for landing. “U-2 drivers often say we earn our pay from 10 feet on down! Legend has it that the first U-2 pilots encountered both sides of the aircraft and it came to be said that ‘sometimes you dance with the Lady, and sometimes you fight with the Dragon,’ hence-Dragon Lady.”

Among his many accomplishments KTOWN is a retired colonel, having served 24 years in the U.S. Air Force with more than 3,400 total flying hours. As an F-16 instructor pilot, he logged more than 1,250 hours in A, B, C and D models. While working at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt he accrued more than 350 hours in the C-12. He has flown at least 14 different military and civilian aircraft including experimental homebuilt aircraft, flying several “first flights” for friends.

A Forward Air Controller during the First Gulf War (Desert Shield/Desert Storm) serving with the 1st Calvary Division out of Fort Hood, Texas, he also flew as an active duty F-16 Instructor pilot with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard in San Juan. He served as a Joint Staff officer, working with the Navy at Dahlgren, Va., and was a U-2 Squadron Commander at an “undisclosed location” during Iraqi Freedom.

His career culminated as the Chief, U.S. Liaison Office, Senior Defense Representative, and senior adviser to the ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He has numerous awards and medals including a Bronze Star from his tour during the Gulf War and several Air Medals, including a single mission Air Medal for flying the first U-2 mission into Iraq after Saddam Hussein promised to shoot down the next U-2 to fly over his country.

It’s quite an impressive resume, especially considering his journey into the Air Force started out by filling in an Air Force “AIM HIGH” advertisement in the TV Guide when he was a junior in high school — just to get his mother off of his back.

Relaxing a moment after school and before heading to work as a disc jockey at WKBI, a Top-40 AM radio station, he was thumbing through the TV Guide when he noticed an advertisement, “Aim High — US Air Force” with a photo of two T-38s. He checked a box for ROTC and the U.S. Air Force Academy. “No postage necessary so I just threw it in the mail. Next thing you know, I get a 10-15- page, pre-candidate questionnaire. A few weeks later I received another package saying I had met the minimum requirements and to fill out what seemed like a book’s worth of information.”

With the help of his radio station manager, Wes Herbstritt, he obtained the recommendations needed. “Wes looked at the paper work and said, ‘hell, I’ll write you a letter and Jim Werner the Army recruiter will write you a letter, and I know Col. Vic Straub, the Air Force recruiter … ”

Lockheed Martin U-2 pilot, Ed “KTOWN” Knouse, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, has reached 1m000 hours flying Lockheed Martin’s U-2 Dragon Lady. Knouse received a single-mission Air Medal for flying the first U-2 mission into Iraq after Saddam Hussein promised to shoot down the next U-2 to fly over his country. The reconnaissance aircraft can fly 70,000 feet above the earth and missions can last more than 10 hours.

Later, a letter arrived stating he was one of 13 candidates to interview for three open slots with his local congressman. Up until this time, his parents didn’t even know he had received the questionnaire or that he was even applying to the Academy. When KTOWN said he needed to borrow the car for an interview with the congressman, his father realized the magnitude of the situation and told him he needed a new suit and he had better cut his hair.

“In those days driving 30 miles was like driving across country.” Showing up for the interview with 12 other candidates, he scanned the waiting room. “They all came with both parents, wearing nice three-piece suits, perfect haircuts, all their moms dripping with diamonds and here I am, pulling up in a “jacked-up” 1970 Cutlass Supreme, by myself in a powder blue, polyester suit, yellow ruffled prom shirt and bow tie, hair cut just enough to rest on my shoulders and my three-inch platform shoes. I swear, the only reason they chose me was because they wanted to use me as a social experiment,” he laughs.

The only knowledge KTOWN had about the Air Force was from listening to his dad tell exciting and harrowing stories about his time in the Air Force while they were building a balsa wood Stuka Dive Bomber in the basement. His father was a crew chief on B-29s during the Korean conflict.

Growing up in St. Marys, Penn., his family lived near the end of the runway at the local airport where he was fascinated with watching aircraft take off and land, but really had no desire to fly at the time. “You know the T-shirt that says- ‘I don’t always stop and look up at airplanes — Yes I do!’ That has always been me — still is.”

A good student in high school but not so much at the Academy, he graduated 937 out of 1,019 in the Class of ’84. “I wasn’t great at academics at the Academy or in pilot training, but I ended up winning the “Flying Training Award” in my Undergraduate Pilot Training Class for attaining the highest flying score/grade overall. That’s what scored me an F-16.”

In his limited spare time he enjoys flying his open cockpit Pietenpol Air Camper. “I love it because you can smell the air, you can fly over someone, see their face and wave at each other.” He is currently completing another Pietenpol. “I’m 90 percent done — 12 years to go!” He is hoping to fly his flyable Piet to Brodhead, Wisc., for the 90th anniversary of the Pietenpol this summer and then tag along with a gaggle of other Pietenpolers to Oshkosh.

“Flying is a dangerous profession. We lose friends, close friends, and unfortunately, I’ve lost my fair share. One evening I’m playing guitar with my friend Randy Roby and the next day he’s gone.” He also lost his Academy roommate, Bill Rogers, to an F-4 crash and his U-2 classmate, Duane “Muff” Dively in a U-2 accident. “As pilots, we compartmentalize our losses and press on — knowing it will never happen to us otherwise, we’d never strap in an aircraft again.”

The terrorist attack of 9/11 hit KTOWN hard. He turned that emotion into a song — The Goodbye. “With six degrees of separation, I hope all the victim’s families and survivors will have a chance to hear it — I hope it helps them heal. It was primarily written for all the survivors of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but also for anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one.” His song and accompanying video can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMSExqpio2I or by searching for “KTOWN’s The Goodbye.”

KTOWN is also writing a book, a collection of vignettes of his military experiences titled, “If My Casio Could Talk,” in reference to the Casio calculator watch that he used to wear as a lieutenant F-16 pilot.

“Being a part of the elite U-2 program and the U-2 Brotherhood is a true honor, as there has only been a little over 1,000 U-2 pilots in the 60 plus-year history of the Dragon Lady.”

One thing that stands out with the U-2 community, whether it’s training, operational or flight test, is that it is such a tight group. “We are very close — we trust each other with our lives every time we fly,” explained KTOWN. “In flight test, I spend a lot of time on the floor with my crew chief and all the maintainers as well as with all the flight test engineers — they are an integral part of the team and building both a professional and personal relationship with them strengthens that team. Without them, my job wouldn’t exist. Every member of the team takes pride in completing a successful mission.”

KTOWN enjoys spending quality time with his beautiful, sassy British bride of 11 years, Diana, also known as “The Brit Chick,” who is a Louise Hay Therapist. Together they practice holistic living and are both life coaches.

“I am a ‘been there, done that, got the t-shirt’ kind of guy,” concludes KTOWN. “I grew up under the ‘work hard, play hard’ philosophy and I always say live every day like it’s your last,’ because it just might be!”

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