How the Aurora Borealis Nearly Started World War III

In 1962, at the height of Cold War tensions, Air Force Captain Charles Maultsby flew a U2 spy plane on Arctic missions to collect high-altitude air samples that the military would test to determine what other countries were testing nuclear weapons. His October 27 mission was supposed to take him to the North Pole and back, but his navigation by the stars was disrupted by the Aurora Borealis. So he decided to turn back. His return did not go as planned.

By 8 a.m., though, Maultsby was starting to get worried. He should have reached Barter by then but his radio remained silent. He also noticed that Orion wasn’t where it ought to be.

Suddenly, the crackling voice of a rescue pilot came over the radio.Concerned that he didn’t have a visual on Maultsby, the rescue pilot started firing signaling flares before asking the U-2 pilot to identify stars. Maultsby radioed that he saw Orion 15 degrees to the left of his nose. A quick check of his own star charts had the rescue pilot instruct Maultsby to turn 10 degrees to the left, but this advice was immediately contradicted by another voice ordering him to turn 30 degrees to the right. Maultsby had no reason to distrust either order; both had used a correct call sign.

The conflicting orders added to the Maultsby’s growing concern. He didn’t know exactly where he was, but he did know that he was running out of fuel. He’d left Eielson with nine hours and 40 minutes of fuel and had been airborne for over eight hours. If he couldn’t get his bearings and get back to the base soon, he’d have to bail out of the U-2, and that wasn’t an appealing prospect. The best advice he’d been given about bailing out of a U-2 flying above the Arctic Circle was to not pull the cord on his chute: it was a better way to go than freezing to death on the ground.

You guessed it: one of the voices directing Maultsby was Soviet. The USSR had no reason to think that Maultsby wasn't carrying nuclear bomb into their territory. The Americans who were also tracking Maultsy knew what the Soviets were thinking, and had to find a way to get him back. Read what happened at The Crux. Link  -via Not Exactly Rocket Science

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" The USSR had no reason to think that Maultsby wasn't carrying nuclear bomb into their territory."

They knew exactly - from his altitude and track and radio signature - what he was doing there and type of plane he was flying. A plane that couldn't carry an atomic bomb. But you got links to your little article which was the whole point, wasn't it?
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