A riveting tale from the new book One Minute to Midnight, excerpted in the current Vanity Fair, relives in chilling detail a never-before-understood incident from the Cuban missile crisis, one that happened near the North Pole. Even as the Cuban crisis unfolded, flights of U-2 spy planes continued from Alaska, seeking evidence of Soviet nuclear tests. Capt. Charles Maultsby got lost on one of them, as the aurora borealis dazzled him and kept him from getting good star readings to guide his way by sextant and map (yes, that's how they navigated). He ended up over Soviet air space where MiGs scrambled in hopes of shooting him down. But though the U-2 was slow, it could fly at 70,000 feet, above the ceiling of the MiGs … until his fuel ran low and he was still lost. He cut power to save what little fuel he had, but when he did so his pressure suit automatically inflated — he then looked like the Michelin man — to keep his blood from boiling in the thin-to-nonexistent atmosphere. This popped his helmet high on his head, his visor fogged and he couldn't see. He had to lick the inside of the visor to peer at his gauges and finally saw the faint glow of the sunrise to guide him east as he glided without power for an hour toward home. His plane belly-flopped on an emergency runway after being escorted by U.S. fighters that, during the Cuban crisis, had traded their conventional air-to-air weapons for nuclear ones. In other words, had they fired to protect the U-2, it would have meant going nuclear. Ironically, the captain set a record for the longest-ever U-2 flight. The National Security Archive at George Washington University also has some details, including charts and maps and summaries, to accompany summaries of the book One Minute to Midnight by reporter Michael Dobbs. Go to www.gwu.edu and search for "Missing Over the Soviet Union" for online enhancements of maps and much more new detail about the missile crisis itself.
In "The Angry Man," the New Yorker wonders if MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is changing TV news. The liberal foil to Fox's Bill O'Reilly, Olbermann can actually look out his office window and see the Fox studios across the way in Manhattan. The article traces the origins of Olbermann's acerbic, mocking style and wonders if we're increasingly self-selecting what we view by choosing to watch people whose opinions match our own. The piece by Peter J. Boyer is well worth reading to discover how a sarcastic sportscaster became a liberal news darling — and why Olbermann hates to fly and why he loses depth perception at speeds over 15 mph. Go to newyorker.com and search for "Keith Olbermann."